Amnesia and Broken Homes: Main Characters in Final Fantasy 8-10

Howdy GB people, this begins a series of blog posts that I plan to do on the topic of amnesia and broken homes in the final fantasy series. I am planning on splitting this into three parts: one for FFVIII, one for FFIX and one for FFX. This post will cover FFVIII (yay chronological order). When I'm done I'll combine the three posts into one gigantopost so that it will be possible to read the whole thing at onc, if you are so inclined.

WARNING! SPOILERS FOR ALL OF FFVIII. If you haven't played it then go join the hit sensation that is sweeping the nation: FFVIII.

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Amnesia is a gameplay trope with which I am sure we are all familiar; it is a condition which seems to prey largely upon RPG protagonists and supporting characters, only to be cured in dramatic fashion at the game’s climax. The team at Extra Credits has done an excellent job explaining why this story telling cliché seems to infest game narratives like termites in a condemned house. They explain that amnesia allows game writers to tell a story in medias res, meaning that the game’s story begins in the second act of a three act story arch. The first act of the story is then told later on when the main character’s memory is restored or their past is retold. Thus, the trope of amnesia allows the writers to skip straight to the action and backload the backstory. Though Extra Credits’ explanation gives a broad overview of why games would choose to employ the amnesia trope on a mechanical level (skip the explaining, get to the action), it does not cover how amnesia shapes the types of narratives we see in games. That is where I hope to add to the discussion, in this post I will show how amnesia and imperfect memory play a central role in the narratives of Final Fantasy 8-10. Specifically, I will show how each game uses amnesia and imperfect memory to reframe its narrative in the third act, transforming each narrative from a hero’s triumph over evil to a son’s struggle to accept and reconnect with his father. In creating three main characters with absentee fathers, each game is able to drastically alter the interpretive context of their main narrative by introducing each character to their father during the final act. By analyzing these three games together I will show how each game is able to take a bombastic, world-spanning adventure and convert that bombast into a deeply personal tale of self-discovery and family history.

Squall and his friends flashing back to their past

Final Fantasy VIII’s story is especially interesting in that 4 of the game’s 6 playable characters suffer from some degree of amnesia and 5 of them are orphans. Every SeeD (young mercenaries in the FFVIII world) in the game suffers from long term amnesia (this horrible epidemic is explained by the game as a side-effect of Guardian Forces, FFVIII’s summoned monsters) and the Garden (a sort of military school) serves as a refuge for orphans. But, regardless of the game’s hokey explanation for its cast’s forgetfulness and the seeming ubiquity of broken homes, it is Squall’s fragmented past that the game focuses on. Squall’s orphan past is slowly revealed to the player over the course of the game in the form of flashbacks and dialog with his fellow orphans. Though Squall’s past is partially explained and explored, it often seems secondary to the more pressing current events that the game presents. Squall’s role as a SeeD in the battle against the sorceress, as well as his budding relationship with Rinoa, seem to be the driving narrative forces in the game, and they are in some ways; however, the developers also carefully seeded a parallel narrative in the game in the form of Laguna’s story. For much of the game, this side-story appears to be just that: a side-story; yet, as Laguna’s story progresses it becomes clear that Laguna is more than a bit player in FFVIII. Before the game’s finale Squall's parantage is revealed by Laguna and his friends Kiros and Ward. Kiros tells Squall, “you look very much like your mother,” Ward tells him, “good thing you don’t look like your father,” and Laguna tells him, “let’s talk when this is all done. I have a lot to tell you;” thus, Laguna is strongly implied to be Squall’s father. With this one revelation Squall’s entire story is rewritten. Squall’s relationship with Rinoa changes from a slowly growing teenage romance to the culmination of a generation of unfulfilled love, as Squall is Laguna’s son and Rinoa is the daughter of Julia, Laguna’s first love. Squall’s battle against the sorceress is also inherited as he is the son of the man who defeated Sorceress Adel, the last sorceress threat. Even Squall’s reluctant and improbable leadership is inherited: while his father was a bit of a buffoon who was pressed to lead due to his charisma, Squall was called to lead the Garden due to his intelligence and sense of duty, despite the fact that he is a very insular person. Squall’s story in FFVIII is in fact a journey towards realizing and understanding his father’s role in shaping his position in the world; rather than a pure story of adventure and young love.

Laguna at Raine's grave in the game's final cutscene

At first glance, it appears as if Squall has inherited his father’s romantic relationship, leadership role, and destiny without inheriting any of the personality and charisma that made Laguna the man he is. Yet, it is interesting that Squall begins to grow beyond his isolated and insular self as he unknowingly follows his father’s lead. It is his relationship with Rinoa, his battle with Edea, and his command of the Garden that cause him to value the lives and company of others. By following directly in his father’s footsteps, Squall is able to grow from a petulant child into a caring and well-adjusted human being. At the game’s conclusion we are able to see that, while Squall first followed his father’s destiny, he then grows to surpass his father. Laguna acknowledges his son’s growth during Squall’s final mission as a SeeD; Laguna outlines Squall’s mission to stop Ultimecia and charges Squall with saving the world, as Laguna can no longer do so himself. Laguna literally passes control on to the next generation, as Squall and his friends will determine the fate of the world based on the outcome of their fight against Ultimecia. The game’s final cut-scene further emphasizes this changing of the guard as Laguna’s visit to Raine’s grave is juxtaposed with Squall and Rinoa’s first kiss. Laguna’s is left reminiscing of the woman he has lost and of the marriage he unknowingly abandoned while Squall’s relationship is only beginning.

Thus, by keeping Squall’s history and memories shrouded in mystery, the developers were able to completely reframe the way one reads Squall’s story. The narrative is at first one of an introverted jerk growing into a caring lover, yet in the third act it is revealed to be the tale of a young man following in his father’s footsteps, only to surpass him.

28 Comments
28 Comments
Posted by mwng

For a game that centers around "time compression" I'm always a little confused about why people tend to rag on the amnesia part of FF VIII more.

Still, I enjoyed your interpretation of it's use! I look forward to the other write ups!

Posted by thatpinguino

@mwng: Every time I write about this game the narrative critiques I see really vary in the comments. From Time Compression to amnesia, to the logical leaps that the game demands with Ellone's powers. I think it is that this game has a story to tell and in service of that story the developers really broke out Deux Ex Machina all over the place. Stuff happens because it must, not because it is a plausible extension of the world or of character motivations. I think that everyone has their own line in the sand that FFVIII crossed and the reactions you see are based on where that line is.

Posted by mwng

I think it works here though, as they pulled that plot device so often I gave up trying to decide where to draw my line, and just kinda enjoyed it for what it was.

Also, I wasn't going to deny Zell the chance to run around the world to punch something just for the sake of continuity...

Edited by thatpinguino

@mwng: i think running around the world to punch a fool is something we all can get behind. The Flash agrees in injustice.

Posted by JasonR86

Squall sucked.

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Posted by Rorie

FFVIII occupies a weird soft spot for me in the FF series. I know people loathed Squall's attitude for most of the game, but I warmed up to him considerably as the game wore on. Still need to replay that sometime.

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Posted by thatpinguino

@rorie: I certainly think the game is worth replaying as its story is a lot less weird if you know what's coming. I think most people's problem with Squall's character is that he is such an extreme example of the put upon young hero early on and he is so naive and whiny about his role as leader. He goes above and beyond the call early on to such an extent that his later changes can be overlooked. But, I think that ultimately his story is affecting and his growth is noticeable, if a tad melodramatic.

Posted by JasonR86

@thatpinguino:

As a kid I really wanted to like FF8 because I really liked FF7. But I didn't like Squall (as I said before) and I didn't like the battle system. The GF summons were insane. Drawing was insane. Having to rely on both of those systems to grind made their insanity even worse. But I forced my through a lot of it hoping that eventually it would improve. Then it came to the part where they all had amnesia and they all knew each other as kids and etc. etc. etc. and I just couldn't handle it. It's just so contrived. I couldn't handle it. So I stopped there. Thank God for FF9.

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Posted by thatpinguino

@jasonr86: Why is it that you liked 7 but not 8? It seems tome that Cloud and Squall are the two most similar protagonists in the series and, while Squall starts out whiny and annoying, Squall does eventually grow out of it. Cloud really does not have the same character growth throughout the game. The twists in 7 are just as contrived as those in 8: Cloud is a clone, Cloud was under mind control, Cloud's memory is all messed up. On top of that Aerith is a member of an ancient race of mystics and Sephiroth is half space alien. It seems like the two games are equally implausible, but people seem to critique 8 more.

Posted by Demoskinos

@rorie: Have you ever read up on the "Squall is dead" theory? If you haven't google it. Its the very first link that comes up. The basic theory is that 3/4 ths of the game never actually happened and is instead a dying fever dream as squall dies from being impaled by Edea at the end of disc 1. The guy goes into more detail on his site. If nothing else its an interesting read even if you end up not agreeing.

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Posted by Petiew

I think most people's problem with Squall's character is that he is such an extreme example of the put upon young hero early on and he is so naive and whiny about his role as leader. He goes above and beyond the call early on to such an extent that his later changes can be overlooked. But, I think that ultimately his story is affecting and his growth is noticeable, if a tad melodramatic.

I think they actually did quite a good job at establishing Squall's original character. Even early on they show that he cares for his friends, but can't properly express it. I was quick to hate him for a while like a lot of people, but after a couple of other playthroughs I understood where they were coming from with his character a lot better. However I think they messed up his character in Disc 3 when Rinoa collapses and Squall very suddenly falls in love with her. It's a really abrupt change and he does a complete 180, when even at the beginning of the dungeon leading to that event he didn't seem to care much for her at all.

Due to that I like to subscribe to the "Rinoa used her evil sorceress powers to get Squall under her command" theory.

Looking forward to your topic on IX, that's my favourite in the series!

Edited by thatpinguino

@demoskinos: Yeah I have read that theory and I do not subscribe to it. I think the narrative holds enough weight for me as is that I don't really want to read it as a big fever dream. Not to mention the logical leaps you have to make to read it that way (but then again you have to make some leaps to read it as being wholly serious as well).

@petiew: They do establish his original character, but some of his scenes, like when he berates Rinoa in disc 1 and when he tosses and turns in bed thinking about how being alone is better than relying on people, just come across as naive and melodramatic to the point where they become off-putting or comical. He does not just act introverted, he acts like a 12-15 year old when he is supposed to be 18; I think that is the larger issue people have with his character.

Edited by JasonR86

@jasonr86: Why is it that you liked 7 but not 8? It seems tome that Cloud and Squall are the two most similar protagonists in the series and, while Squall starts out whiny and annoying, Squall does eventually grow out of it. Cloud really does not have the same character growth throughout the game. The twists in 7 are just as contrived as those in 8: Cloud is a clone, Cloud was under mind control, Cloud's memory is all messed up. On top of that Aerith is a member of an ancient race of mystics and Sephiroth is half space alien. It seems like the two games are equally implausible, but people seem to critique 8 more.

There were a few things that raised 7 above 8 for me. I liked the fighting system in 7 more. The summons were still long but I didn't feel like I was forced into relying on them as often as I did in 8. Plus I liked the dynamic between Cloud and Sephiroth. Squal was a whiny bitch and I never saw him change into anything other then that. I couldn't deal with him. I didn't finish 8 so maybe I just didn't make it to where I needed to. But I got up to the third disc and it was still just such an obnoxious story with bad characters. And the part at the orphanage just bugged me to no end. Again, it's just so contrived.

When I played 7 I was younger and the Playstation/N64 still felt 'next generation' to me so I was able to look past some problems. By the time I got to 8 I was older and the Playstation was shiny and new. So the problems stuck out to me more. But FF9 was awesome. It was more light hearted and fun. I guess at that point in my life I had gotten tired of doom and gloom tones and wanted to get back to more light heartedness. Plus the fighting system in FF9 went back to being really solid.

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Edited by Petiew

@thatpinguino: Well I agree somewhat. Like I said I originally hated Squall for those exact reasons, but I think that's exactly what the developers wanted you to feel. Squall is acting that way on purpose, what you're feeling as a result of his actions and personality is exactly what he wants the other characters in the story to feel so they'll leave him alone.

"I hate that side of me... That's why I didn't want anyone to get to know me. I wanted to hide that side of myself. I hate it. Squall is an unfriendly, introverted guy. It made it easy for me when people perceived me that way."

I think Square actually created a pretty interesting character, but I feel they dropped the ball with him later on. Plus I've heard that a couple of his lines, in particular the infamous "go talk to a wall" line, were mostly down to innacurate flavoured translations. At first glance I almost stopped playing the game because I couldn't stand him, but after hearing people give more detailed arguments over the years I hate him a lot less.

Edited by Brodehouse

As ... ahem, as a teenage introvert with abandonment issues, let's say I could somehow understand what it's like to be rolling around in your bed in the middle of the day, wondering why everything appears to be out of your control, while at the same time being told about all the responsibilities you are soon to inherit.

Of course at the same time, I didn't have a paycheque, multiple pretty girls flirting with me, and a decade of free martial training. I suppose someone has to serve the hot dogs.

Also, decent first entry. When you finish, you should collect them all into one and I'd be glad to suggest community spotlight promotion.

Posted by thatpinguino

@brodehouse: I felt the same way when I was younger, and that is why FF8 resonated so strongly with me. I think it is my current perspective that makes me see how others could view Squall as whiny and weak. I think he is a fine character, but some of his word choice (not the developer's fault given the translation) is overly melodramatic and that melodrama can make his suffering hard to empathize with.

I also plan on assembling the full thing when I am done, I did a poll to see whether people preferred one big blog or several smaller ones and the response was in favor of multiple small posts. So I figured i would do both: small first, than a complete essay.

Edited by ZombiePie

Just think about this for a moment. "Real," clinical amnesia is when trauma or brain damage results in a person unable to form new memories, or new memories are formed in chunks that are not easily accessible or describable to the person with amnesia. This means that Dora from Finding Nemo is one of the few actual examples of amnesia in entertainment.

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Posted by thatpinguino

@zombiepie: Mind blown. I will never look at Finding Nemo and JRPGs the same way again.

Posted by thatpinguino

@petiew: where is the "go talk go a wall" line? I don't remember it.

Edited by Hailinel

Final Fantasy VIII is certainly notable for its egregious use of certain plot devices (EVERYONE IS AMESIAC ORPHAN!!1), but I still enjoyed the core story and characters. I think that at least some of the people that have problems with it had been introduced to Final Fantasy with FFVII. So naturally they were expecting something more akin to FFVII in its gameplay and characters without realizing that the series routinely shakes itself up with ever iteration.

As for Squall, he can be an immature douche at times, but yeah, he's a teenager.

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Edited by Superkenon

I was definitely one of the people who wrote Squall off at first, but after replaying all the PS1 Final Fantasies... I really came around on him. Now he might be my favorite FF protagonist, at least in terms of how he's written.

Mostly I think it's the inner monologue I enjoy. That disconnect between what he's thinking and what ends up coming out of his mouth makes him such a believable character to me, and it's often amusing. I mean, he's still generally a downer and not that fun of a fellow to hang with, but hey.

Posted by thatpinguino

@superkenon: He might not be fun to hang out with, but if shit goes wrong he will begrudgingly sort everything out and make sure everyone gets home okay. Then he will probably passive-aggressively lord that moment over your head forever.

Posted by Video_Game_King

Just think about this for a moment. "Real," clinical amnesia is when trauma or brain damage results in a person unable to form new memories, or new memories are formed in chunks that are not easily accessible or describable to the person with amnesia. This means that Dora from Finding Nemo is one of the few actual examples of amnesia in entertainment.

You stole this from Cracked.

Posted by Ravenlight
The Fashion of FF8 -or- What Were They Thinking?

Posted by ZombiePie

@zombiepie said:

Just think about this for a moment. "Real," clinical amnesia is when trauma or brain damage results in a person unable to form new memories, or new memories are formed in chunks that are not easily accessible or describable to the person with amnesia. This means that Dora from Finding Nemo is one of the few actual examples of amnesia in entertainment.

You stole this from Cracked.

Indeed! It's still crazy to think that Dora still is the defacto example of "real" amnesia in entertainment.

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Posted by thatpinguino

@ravenlight: You are just jealous of their self-confidence. It takes a truly secure individual to leave the house looking like any of them.

Posted by Ravenlight

@ravenlight: You are just jealous of their self-confidence. It takes a truly secure individual to leave the house looking like any of them.

I'm pretty sure my grandpa rocks the Zell fashion on a day-to-day basis.

Edited by thatpinguino

@ravenlight: then you must have a confident and suave grandpa.