Monday, April 10, 2006

Final Fantasy VIII and the Stupid Notebook

So. My third playthrough of Final Fantasy VIII is finally over, after two months of on-and-off playing. And to be honest, it feels much weirder than I expected.

I remember, two months ago, I was seriously debating whether or not starting a new FFVIII game was even a smart thing to do. Would it really be the same up at college, without the comfort and privacy of my own home? Wouldn't it be really, really weird to not be able to just play on my own? Would it be too distracting from the work I was (supposedly) doing up here?

The bigger question: Is there even a point for me to play this outdated game again??

That last question wasn't one I tackled with too much, but it's still one I think about. Most people I've talked to (including my sister, for one) really can't see the point in replaying a video game after you've already beaten it. Replays are usually reserved for nerdy types who want to get everybody to Level 100 or beat some hidden dungeon they missed earlier in the game or some crap like that. I mean, it's not like we're talking about legitimate pieces of literature here, which have a lasting, timeless value - this is just a video game. That shit rots your brain out, doesn't it?

I have a funny relationship with most RPGs I play - especially Final Fantasy VIII. For one thing, it was the first Final Fantasy I ever played, which is unusual since it's such a friggin' mutant compared to other games in the series. The characters are all pretty much normal-looking human characters, the world they live in is remarkably like the modern world (save for the monsters, though they do look like beasts in the real world as well), and the style of speech is toned-down and not very dramatic or direct. And then we have the love story. Oh yes - that was the big marketing draw of Final Fantasy VIII, the love story at its core between the angsty Squall and the... err, not-angsty Rinoa. Final Fantasies had had plenty of love stories in the past, but they were never made the focal point until this game, which was kind of unusual.

And of course, under this kind of setup, the backlash was inevitable. I mean, the game was received well and sold well, but so many jaded Final Fantasy gamers I know will go on record in regards to the shittiness of this game. It's not very well-liked. So it's kind of awkward for me, to have this particular game as my very FIRST Final Fantasy, in comparison to all the great NES and SNES era installments of the series. Indeed, I look like a total n00b.

I'll say this before anything else - I can see why people don't like this game. The battle system is awkward, and while the graphics are beautiful for the PSX age, the attacks are so overdone and the reliance of Guardian Forces (read: summon monsters) is so frequent that the game is slowed down waaaaaaaaaaay too much, hindering its "Fun Factor" as GamePro would put it. Then we've got the characters - Rinoa, who I personally don't like much considering that she doesn't have that much of a personality (and she's the goddamn second main character!!). The other characters - Zell, Quistis, Irvine, and Selphie - are all interesting enough, but they're totally overshadowed about halfway through the game by Squall and Rinoa, which bugs the shit out of me. They barely do anything! No final backstories for each character, no "this is why I fight" bullshit that I love so much. They're just, "Oh, we're here too." No development outside of their stereotypical personalities. It's annoying. The best character in the game - the cheery, weird Laguna - was only a guy you played as in mini-flashbacks randomly through the game. Maaan.

Still, though, the big enigma in the game for me was Squall, main character and inarguably the angstiest and meanest main character in the history of the series. I mean, Cloud from Final Fantasy VII has his problems, but for Christ's sake, he was psychologically tortured in every other scene in that game. Squall, with his hair covering his face (yes, like an emo kid) and a battle scar on his nose, came from some childhood trauma of not having parents, and because of that he was pretty much a cold asshole to everybody, his trademark phrase being a Nirvana-esque "Whatever". He was a totally stereotypical Gen-X teenager, and then halfway through the disc he becomes freaking INFATUATED with Rinoa after she goes into a coma-like trance, which confused the hell out of me. He never liked her much! Where did this "I'm going to protect you forever" shit suddenly come from?? Squall, what the fuck, man??

I tried something new this time around - this third playthrough. About a month or so ago I started to write in a notebook, so I could start this kind of free-association off-the-top-of my head writing that I believed would help me clear my constant guilt about not writing enough and in turn get my creative juices flowing (I was in Creative Writing class, which really got me interested in free writing a lot more). When I started it off, it was mostly just me ranting about things I had thought about for a while - and as such, I didn't really feel creative as much as I felt stupid and insecure. It was much more of a dead-end than I expcected, and it was a little depressing.

So one day, bored after playing FFVIII for a few hours, I simply said to myself - "Hey, what if I wrote as Squall?"

And suddenly, my free-association writing was turning into my personal conversations with Squall, the main character from a video game.

It's almost embarrassing for me to admit this. On one level people could think of it as excessively nerdy - or, even worse, schizophrenic. And yeah, it was definitely nerdy, I'll at least give you that. But I tell you, ladies and gents, it was freeing - taking the voice of another forced me to think like somebody else, opening up countless possibilities. The most interesting aspect of it was the "conversations" I had with him; I pretended to be a voice in his head, almost, and he responded as if I were an idiot, pretty much like he does in the game. Hell, I even grilled him about the whole Rinoa thing and he got angrily defensive - it started to feel like I was someone else, like I was arguing for somebody in some other universe, giving them a voice. As stupid as it sounds, it gave me a stronger understanding of Squall as a character, and made the game suprisingly personal. Squall felt like a living, breathing person all of the sudden, someone as vulnerable and weird as anyone else I knew. And... yeah.

After beating the game yesterday, I had what I considered my last "session" with Squall in my notebook, kind of clearing things up. I'd prefer not to share anything from my notebook specifically - it's pretty personal, you understand. But it felt good, to finish things like this. Different, but peaceful. Things felt like they made a lot more sense than they did other times when I beat the game.

I'll put it this way - I love Final Fantasy VIII. I have my gripes, but it's a great game. It has a lazy, alluring atmosphere that I can't get enough of, and its tender moments are wonderful. That part with Laguna adjusting to living in a small town, that was great. The whole part with the peaceful Shumi Tribe and the seaside towns of Fisherman's Horizon and Balamb are wonderful. It'll always have a place in my heart as that game I stayed up late almost every night to dick around in during the seventh grade, when my grades were shoddy and I still loved Dragonball Z. I'll always miss it. I dunno when the hell I'm going to play through it again - whether it's two years, four years, twelve years, whatever - but I'll always remember this time.

I guess I can't contain my nerdiness in this case - whatever. If talking to a fictional video game character in my writings helps me out, then fuck it, that's what I'm going to do! And I have no regrets about it. It's something I should do more often, actually.

I'm sorry, for anybody who isn't into video games much, I'm sure this entry was horrible. I'm sorry!! I'll make an entry about 80's music or Carlos Mencia or something like that next time to keep things relatable. I just had to get this shit off my chest. In case you couldn't tell, video games mean way too much to me. They always have.

So to summarize. Thanks, FFVIII. Now let me sleep.

8 comments:

Luke said...

I was going to make fun of you for playing a Japanese pr0n game without the pr0n, but it looks like you actually made the characters work a little, or at least Squall. So, um, I guess I'm just going to say cool and that I'm probably never going to play FF8 given what you've said about it.

Adam said...

I can't exactly relate to you in any way about video games, but you have a way of turning it into a religious experience that makes it so earnest. It's pretty funny.

And I champion your decision to go through it again, nothing wrong with a giant walk down memory lane.

In other news, Paul and I got "At War With The Mystics," and I must say that while it's not quite as enthralling or even as The Soft Bulletin is really, it's still quite good. "The W.A.N.D.", "Mr. Ambulance Driver," "Sound of Failure," and "My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion" are standouts for me. Even something like "It Overtakes Me," which is excessively progressive (smooth groove beginning, ambient space music, acoustic noodly outro >.<) is quite enjoyable.

Of course, the highlight is undoubtedly "Pompeii Am Götterdämmerung," and if I were ever to go on a space mission, I want that song to play while I'm blasting off.

Adam said...

I can't exactly relate to you in any way about video games, but you have a way of turning it into a religious experience that makes it so earnest. It's pretty funny.

And I champion your decision to go through it again, nothing wrong with a giant walk down memory lane.

In other news, Paul and I got "At War With The Mystics," and I must say that while it's not quite as enthralling or even as The Soft Bulletin is really, it's still quite good. "The W.A.N.D.", "Mr. Ambulance Driver," "Sound of Failure," and "My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion" are standouts for me. Even something like "It Overtakes Me," which is excessively progressive (smooth groove beginning, ambient space music, acoustic noodly outro >.<) is quite enjoyable.

Of course, the highlight is undoubtedly "Pompeii Am Götterdämmerung," and if I were ever to go on a space mission, I want that song to play while I'm blasting off.

Adam said...

Gahhh, sorry.

Fuckin website died on me.

Paul said...

Interesting. Most people don't understand how personal video games really are. They're definitley more personal than movies and books; although, especially because of the time it takes to read one, books are very personal too. But actually playing as the character gives you the sense that you are controlling thier destiny, while at the same time watching it unfold. This is something that can only be felt in video games, and if writing in your notebook helped you to experience this more fully then that's awesome.

By the way, "the Stupid Notebook" made me think that you were going to review the movie "The Notebook" which would have been amusing, although not as much as "A Walk to Remember."

Sean "Seventeen" Rose said...

Fuck!! I should have said something about the Notebook.

Oh well. It would probably help for me to actually watch the movie before doing that.

Luke said...

You don't need to watch a movie to make fun of it. Just go to the IMDb page for it and get what information you can, then lambast the damn thing.

Upon further reflection (getting back to your original post) it seems like you're writing fanfiction, essentially. The only reason I'm even thinking this is that I've been reading some (or at least trying to find something decently written) over the last month or so. Probably would have forgotten about FF.net entirely, otherwise.

To get to an actual point, though, it seems like Squall would be a relatively good character to write about/have a conversation with, since he's about as angsty as a normal teen, much like us. It sounds like you really got into developing his character and giving him more of an identity. From what I know, that's probably the best way to start thinking about writing your own characters. A warning, though: I read this one girl's tale, that she wrote fanfiction and then realized that they were stuck in a rutwith the characters and what they were doing with the world in general. So... it might be a good idea to try creating your own characters, too, and have conversations with them. Of course, I'm not doing anything for writing apart from research papers, so I'm probably not the person to be telling you this. Whatever. I'm fucking telling you anyway.

*Have you any depth perception?*

Sean "Seventeen" Rose said...

Yes, exactly, it was basically just free-association fanfiction. I was actually going to mention that in the blog somewhere but I forgot along the way. It basically stems from all that Megaman X stuff I used to write - you know, a fascination with characters that I don't think are totally represented in their storylines.

I'm gonna use the whole Squall thing as kind of a launching pad - these "conversations" really felt alive and interesting to me, so I'm gonna continue them in my crappy little notebook, with a combintion of characters I make up myself and for the heck of it fictional characters I like and/or don't like. It's cool for me, 'cause I was planning to use it just for my own ramblings, but I hate writing down my own opinions like that. I sound like a rambling idiot. :( Having another "character" in the mix gives things more of a balance, which is why the whole Squall thing worked out so well.

I just hope I can come up with some characters interesting enough...