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Final Fantasy VIII's 20th Anniversary And What it Means To Me

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Celebrating Final Fantasy VIII's 20th Anniversary here at my office, which officially took place on the 11th. FFVIII was released 20 years ago in 1999! 
I was 8 years old when it released, and at the time Nintendo's N64 and Game Boy Color were the only systems that had my attention. 

Discovering Final Fantasy VIII

I discovered almost all of Final Fantasy all at once when I was 13, just a few years later, thanks to reconnecting with a childhood friend who I mentioned in this post who also introduced me to Fire Emblem by pure chance. 
My friend had been playing FFX which was his first FF game. 
I remember hearing him talk about the Sphere Grid (FFX's skill tree basically), and how he thought he messed up on some character's grids whose names, Tidus and Wakka, stuck in my mind that I recognized immediately after just discovering Kingdom Hearts, my introduction game to wanting a PlayStation 2

My friend brought over his copy of Final Fantasy X to show me the Zanarkand map and bosses from the late game, including the 3-stage Yunalesca fight. 
I decided to not only get my own copy of FFX, but to find and obtain the rest.

Over the next couple years, he and I would discover the meat of the FF series, I-XI and eventually XII in 2006, and beyond. 
I ended up getting a lot more heavily invested in the series than even my friend, buying merch like figurines, posters, books from Japan, as many different players guides I could find, researching lore, and more. 
 I could go on for quite a while about what Final Fantasy has meant to me over the last 16 years, but this post is about Final Fantasy VIII. 

Celebrating Final Fantasy VIII

To celebrate I wanted to write this post, as well as take some nice photos of some of my long-owned VIII merch that has been with me through 2 relationships, pets, friends, and family deaths and losses, and 4 moves. 
Above in the first photo, is my Squall Leonhart and Rinoa Heartilly original Play Arts figurines, as well as my FFVIII OST I bought in 2004 from our local hobby shop, A1 Comics, back when they were small. 
Also visible up above is my US copy of the game, and in the back is vol.3 of The Sky artbook, which features a load of FF artwork by Yoshitaka Amano
I chose the backdrop to be the pages of The Sky that show a couple of the few renditions Amano did of FFVIII's logo. 
Missing from the photos is my other Rinoa figure I have unopened in box that is mounted on a wall in the hallway, as well as my Zell figure which I forgot about. LOL. 

Nowadays when people ask me what my favorite FF is, I have a very difficult time answering- actually I can't answer. I love them all a lot, and I see the series as a whole being rooted in deep lore as one huge story spanning eons in a universe and world before our own. I used to usually say my all-time favorite was FFVIII hands down, then for a while it was FFV. But there was always something about VIII that really struck a cord with me more than most of the games, although VII and X really gripped me just as hard when I discovered them. 



Why I have always loved Final Fantasy VIII and what it has always meant to me

Spoilers ahead.
Final Fantasy VIII's story resonated with me very deeply on a few levels. 
The game's story follows a protagonist named Squall Leonheart who is mostly alone in the world and a student at the Balamb Garden academy which acts like the country of Balamb's major prestigious school and doubles as a military academy for special ops known as S.E.E.D.s, which Squall is working toward becoming. 
During Squall and his classmate's first major mission, events occur that start to thrust the characters into the plot that sees the start of war with a rival country, and the resurrection of an infamous sorceress lead by another sorceress who turns out to be someone close to all the main characters. 

During all of the drama, attacks on the character's homelands, and a journey into enemy territory, Squall meets the daughter of a famous general who joins the cast, and they begin to fall in love over the course of the journey. 
The plot thickens when major revelations in the plot come to pass, and Squall receives visions/dreams about his father's past when he was young, which eventually reveals that Rinoa- Squall's love interest- is the daughter of the woman his father loved but was separated from by war and a missed opportunity before the general married her. This doesn't change much in what is going on with the overall plot, but the back and forth stories between the past and the present bring insight to background plots between the countries that show how long the world has been at war and leading up to the events Squall and friends must now deal with. 
Love is a major theme between Squall and Rinoa, and the game ends happily with the two together, unlike Cloud and Aerith from FFVII, and many heartbreaking moments throughout the franchise where two lovers either don't end up together in the end, or some major plot device puts a damper on things.

Squall Leonheart 

Growing up, I thought Squall Leonheart was the coolest character ever made. His image was inspired by the legendary Japanese rocker Gackt, who's fashion and face was used by Square Enix to create Squall. A scar from a fight with the game's minor antagonist, Seifer Almassy, goes across Squall's forehead and upper nose. And who could forget Squall's weapon of choice: the gunblade, which has unique limit break moves that let you fire it during slash combos. In higher quality rendered photos and cutscenes, Squall's gunblade also has the lion or "Griever" theme, which matches Squall's signature pendant. 


A lot of people told me I look like Squall too, with similar stature, brown hair, and quieter presence (back then). I wanted to be everything Squall was, complete with the black clothes, pendant, belts, gloves, and jacket. Many people know I'm not into doing cosplay myself, but I did make my first and only cosplay Squall. Unfortunately the foreign online vendor I bought my Squall jacket from sent me one with the wrong colored fur. Still, I did it anyways for the first day of my very first FanimeCon in 2009. Hilariously, I melted in the summer heat which came early that year in May, and I was miserable, wishing I could just enjoy the convention, panels, and shop, without dissolving into a puddle of sweat. I went back to the hotel and changed, but just before I left, a girl who was cosplaying Rinoa in the dress she wore during the S.E.E.D. graduation celebration in the game, found me and we took a quick photo together. 

 I now present a rare and semi-embarassing photo of my one and only cosplay:

Squall and Rinoa cosplay at FanimeCon2009

Love, Sentiments, and Symbolisms

Final Fantasy VIII has a ton of things that made me fall in love with it, similar to how I get invested into many of the Final Fantasy games, and that is the story, world, lore, characters, and music. These features in games often grab me more than the gameplay, which is still fun in VIII despite some annoyances with a little bit of the game's battle mechanics and the junction system. 

I ended up making Squall's griever pendant somewhat of a signature item I always wore that people came to know me for always having- still have it today. I've even given the pendant to girlfriends (who eventually, and thankfully returned it) and even friends who've taken it with them for good luck across oceans on trips. 
Its even been in real war zones. Somehow it always makes it's way back to me, and to me it now means many things.

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Getting so invested in Squall and being the sentimental person I am, I was enjoying the magic of Squall and Rinoa's story around the times I was falling in love with someone in real life. 
We all know that Squall Leonheart is a bit of an emotional character, but instead of just laughing at his pain like a lot of players and meme-makers, I connected with him a lot. If you've read or plan to read my About Page, you'll see I've been through some trials in my life, and I wrote that page to share my journey with others, but also to inspire if possible.


Falling in love and meeting my soulmate

Another thing that was very emotional connection for me due to Squall and Rinoa's deep love for each other, was during my time getting into Final Fantasy, I was in a magical relationship with someone that I met on a chance encounter.
It was a relationship I'll never forget, and it was forced to be long-distance over about 4 years. We faced great odds, proved people wrong who didn't believe in us, and shared something real I haven't felt since.
The pain of loving someone so much and waiting years for them was a burden I gladly accepted.
It didn't matter to me how happy others were around me with people they had close to them, I held out knowing at the end I'd finally be with the girl I love more than anyone- finishing school being the main obstacle. 

I could go on here for a while about that time in my life, and how much I still wish things could be different today, how much I think of her all the time. 

She was my Rinoa, the Asuna to my Kirito, Nagisa to my Okazaki, you get the picture. 

As horrible as this might sound without knowing all of the context, I loved her throughout the relationship and marriage that came afterward too, and everyone knew it. After some events in 2009, I was completely broken when our relationship ended. I wanted to die. Who doesn't want to die sometimes without the person they always believe is their other half? 
Our love was so deep I can hardly describe it, and I've never felt anything like it since those times no matter who I've tried to meet. 
I made my own major mistakes by investing into a fallback relationship that was founded mostly on giving up due to impossible odds at fixing what I had before, so I spent most of my time afterward focusing more on my career and dealing with a new person while it felt nice that someone else loved me- but it wasn't the same. 

Not even on my wedding day with my last ex was I as happy as any day during my previous relationship with the girl I will always love. Squall's "griever" lion pendant and theme is never fully explained in the game, but seems to represent his pain, and I interpret it as pain, loneliness, and the bearing of bad cards played on us in life. 
It became more true to me than ever after that relationship I mentioned, as I continue to always grieve for what could be still today. It was in 2009 that I began to live what I feel is now an alternate path off the canon, like in some visual novels that have different story branches depending on your choices. 
I'd do almost anything to have her back...I can imagine how Squall would feel without his Rinoa. Story of my life.

I don't talk about this much, its painful, it always may be, and there has never seemed to be anything I can do about it. While writing here tonight, it felt right to mention. 
I'm still always hoping. 

And of course, always open to the possibility of meeting someone new in the chance I haven't met my real soulmate yet.

Finally

Not to make everyone depressed or teary eyed at my feelings, overall this game has always meant a lot to me, whether personally representing a reflection of feelings through Squall and Rinoa's relationship for someone I love, for helping cultivate my love for Final Fantasy, Nobuo Uematsu's music, Square Enix's storytelling, memories made with friends over this game throughout my teen years, and so much more. 

Final Fantasy VIII is one of the only FF's that begin and end completely, without any other media/material besides some vague and barely canon lore about Squall/Leon in Kingdom Hearts, and participating in the Dissidia story as a Warrior of Light in the fight against the forces of Discord and evil. 

In Kingdom Hearts, Leon as he's known, has been separated from Rinoa and trapped in the middle dimension between the realm of darkness and light for nearly a decade, going as far as changing his name and painfully trying to bury the past until all the worlds are saved and he can return to how things were. I really connected with this part of his character too for obvious reasons. Its been a decade for me too.

Some of my favorite moments include the cutscenes, Squall's meeting with Rinoa, the space scene, the time Zell chokes on hotdogs in the credits, when everyone faces Ultimecia for the final showdown, Squall's first big mission, and Laguna's scenes at the bar with Julia. I can feel my heartstrings pulling just remembering it all.

I love this game so much. I don't even care if it ever gets a remake, its perfect how it is and always has been, to me.

I could probably write all day about this game, and do a serious review on Final Fantasy VIII sometime as well. Still hoping against hope that I will have a happy ending like Squall and Rinoa did in Final Fantasy VIII, and I might be able to put my griever to rest some time.


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What does Final Fantasy VIII mean to you? Share with us here in the comments below!



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