Final Fantasy VIII is my favorite video game of all time. That statement, right there, can elicit a variety of responses and over the years I’ve heard it all. There are those who will decry such an opinion, ready to cite all the reasons as to why I am wrong for actually having a personal opinion on something such as this. Then there are others who will simply nod their heads in agreement, for they understand. While others will just simply shrug their shoulders and say, “whatever.”
Do I think that Final Fantasy VIII is a perfect game? No, of course not, but to paraphrase the immortal words of Kino from Kino’s Journey, “Final Fantasy VIII is not perfect, therefore it is.” Yes, drawing magic in Final Fantasy VIII can be a bit tedious for sure, the junction system is no doubt rather broken not to mention easily exploitable, and the story is a little convoluted at times but none of that means anything to me on a very personal level.
Final Fantasy VIII was released twenty years ago in 1999, on February 11th, during a very influential and transitional time in my life as I was leaving the innocence of childhood behind and entering the early onset years of adulthood by graduating from middle school into high school. My body was changing, my mind was changing, my taste in video games was changing and maturing too. In many ways, I was looking for something to relate with.
For all my life, up until that point, I had been a Nintendo fanboy but regardless I also unfortunately never owned a SNES and therefore missed out on a lot of landmark RPGs from that era. In fact, before Final Fantasy VIII, I had never played an RPG before so, needless to say, it was an eye-opener in that respect but more so to the fact that it introduced me to the PlayStation. In fact, I ended up buying one explicitly so that I could play Final Fantasy VIII after seeing the opening FMV for the game at a friend’s house.
I wont delve too deeply into the story or the characters, because spoilers (yes, I know, even for a twenty year old game), but as I played the game I slowly began to form a close connection with its narrative and even more so a tight bond with its main character, Squall Leonhart. Now, over the years, a lot of people have treated Squall very unfairly in my mind but I understand as to why. Yes, for most of the game, he is rather whiny, complaining a lot, and standoffish but, for all the negative things which people associated with him, I saw nothing but myself in him and honestly would often take it very personally when people would attack him and his character as I felt that it was a projection on me in someway.
I attribute this mostly to the fact that a lot of people were coming off of Final Fantasy VII at this point which was quite the polar opposite to Final Fantasy VIII. FFVII was dark, gritty, and the main character of that game, Cloud Strife, was cool, edgy, and mysterious. Squall in comparison was a miserable, self-loathing, and often unsure of himself total mess; who could get behind someone like that or truly care about someone who thought this way?
I asked myself that question every morning during this period of my life because it was around that time when I began a hard downward spiral into depression, thanks in part to having a difficult time with all the changes in my life, which again at the time reminded me so very much of Squall and his own inner demons. Final Fantasy VIII then, in many ways, became a form of therapy for me and playing through the game was akin to working through my own problems at the time. So much so that it ended up saving my own life.
There was a point around that time where I felt as though I could go no deeper, nor any longer, and actually tried taking my own life but Final Fantasy VIII kept me going. I had to keep playing, I had to see it through to the end, I owed it to the characters and their world but, more importantly, I owed it to myself. Eventually, I would seek actual professional help, with therapy and medication, but Final Fantasy VIII was always there for me to fall back on and escape to from the real world. It might sound daft to some but, to me, it was my everything; Final Fantasy VIII was my constant comfort zone, it was my purest “hygge.”
“Hygge,” for those who aren’t familiar with the term, is as Wikipedia describes “a Danish and Norwegian word for a mood of coziness and comfortable conviviality with feelings of wellness and contentment.” Some might suggest that perhaps my admiration towards the game is really more a case of being blinded by nostalgia, as the game certainly brings back memories of a specific time in my life and that might be the case in part, but I honestly think that there’s a lot more to it than something that simple as the game itself is rather beautiful.
I could give a hundred examples of my point, but I don’t want to bother you with a slideshow of every location within the game nor the entire soundtrack; which I admittedly would if I was ever given the opportunity. Instead, I’ll just pick out a couple of my favorites:
Winhill, which you visit a couple of times in the game, is as pure “hygge” as you can get in terms of not only the visuals having obvious European inspired architecture but also the ways in which the lights radiate warmth indoors and the flowers accent every inch of space. This is a small village which is nestled within the mountains, almost hidden to the rest of the world, where time seems to stand still and the ghosts of the past linger. Therefore it seems apt that the song which accompanies your time there is entitled “Fragments of Memories” as, much like nostalgia, memory can be at times fleeting and hard to accurately recapture.
Fisherman’s Horizon, which you visit for the first time about halfway through the game, is an idyllic seaside town which exudes personality in every little nook and cranny. I mean, seriously, just look at the intricate details in these backgrounds! The way things are just sort of cobbled together, the little signs, you can almost smell the salt in the air and feel the cool breeze coming off the ocean. Maybe it’s simply because I live along the coast and near the water myself, so this more or less reminds me of some nearby towns that I know, but either way once these visuals are combined with the music it quickly amplifies the effect.
Now I very rarely scroll down below YouTube videos, because the comment section is usually nothing more than a dumpster fire of hatred and trollish behavior, but I was pleasantly surprised at the top comments I found below a video of the Fisherman’s Horizon Theme and felt it necessary that I present them as they were the day that I read them:
There is no better feeling in this world, no matter what you’re going through, to know that you are not alone. Final Fantasy VIII to me was more than just a game and always will be; it was a life saver, it was a right of passage, and it was exactly what I needed at that time. It’s not a perfect game, and I’ll never claim it to be, but I’ll forever hold in my heart the belief that it was something special regardless of whatever anyone tells me to the contrary.
Much like Squall, when I started the game, I was a teenage loner dealing with mental health issues who feared the ever-changing and scary world around them and was therefore unsure of what to do every day or how to really open up and relate with others. However, much like how Squall would eventually come to rely on and trust in his friends, I too began to open up to those around me and the world as a whole. We both learned to finally smile.
This is not to say that the journey was easy, or not a struggle, both in real life or in terms of playing the game. I still struggle with mental health issues, from depression to anxiety and impostor syndrome, but I am certainly better now than where I was before. Similarly, I spent many years since the release of Final Fantasy VIII trying to actually finish the game but will admit that (at the time) the confusing junction system would often lead me to only being able to get so far even on multiple playthroughs. It wasn’t until about four years ago, back in 2015 when I first tried my hand at streaming on Twitch, that the end of an era finally came…