Have you ever believed a dream was real?
Final Fantasy VIII, as I’ve said before, is one of my favorite games of all time. It may, perhaps, even rank as my personal number one. The game has taken major criticism from many parties in the past (and present), but it also is given some of the most loyal defenders. Critics of VIII tend to believe that the conceived absurdity of the plot following disc one creates a flawed experience. Some found the entirely new junction system distasteful, while others weren’t particularly pleased with how the Guardian Force mechanics worked. As I’ve said before, and so I’ll say again: this is the beauty of gaming. We can love and hate any given game and be correct in doing so – provided we support our claims with evidence taken from said game.
So I understand the flak VIII receives. I agree that the story takes an incredible and fantastical twist after the failed attempt on Edea’s life. Heck, I can even understand the disappointment others felt because they compared VIII to Final Fantasy VII and were left completely underwhelmed. I, however, was in the 7th grade, eager from television ads running the trailer for Final Fantasy VIII. It was perhaps, in retrospect, the most memorable gift and birthday due to the attached nostalgic value I gained after playing. And don’t worry – I’ve played VIII through numerous times, especially once it released as an HD update on Steam (with achievements!). In other words, it’s fresh in my mind to debate.
What if Squall is dying, and the final three discs of Final Fantasy VIII are his death dreams?
Quite a while back, a theory was proposed in order to “make sense” of the drastic story shift of VIII. The idea was expanded upon by Rahul Choudhury and Diedra Rater on the website known as Squall is Dead. This theory proposes that, once Squall is impaled by the Sorceress Edea’s blizzard spell, he actually dies. But before death wraps its blanket around Squall, coaxing him into that sweet eternal slumber, he dreams away his last moments of life. The theory is based in the fantastical twist the game takes once Squall “comes to”. Somehow, his wounds are magically healed. Crazy, mythical creatures begin to populate the world, buildings can fly, and Squall & Co. are catapulted into a time warp Kurt Vonnegut could be proud of.
Many fans who disliked the alleged absurdity of the story get behind this theory, perhaps because they secretly enjoyed the game sought meaning for something they considered barren. Maybe this was many gamers’ first foray into the Final Fantasy-verse, where implausible plots are the norm and loved. Blogger Emperor Mateus took to the FinalFantasy.answers.wikia to debunk the theory. He argues that plot twists in Final Fantasy IV, VII, and IX – all games considered ‘better’ in the series – are actually more ludicrous than VIII. He then further explains why the flying buildings, quick romance between Squall and Rinoa, and time traveling sorceress Ultimecia actually make sense in the world of VIII.
Check both of these sites to read these theories and debuffs. It’s interesting material.
So is Squall dead?
Well, that’s the beauty of art. When the majority of readers ponder over Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” they surmise that the speaker of the poem is pondering his death, particularly when he muses:
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
I even subscribe to this general explication of Frost’s poem. I have evidence and meanings that I’ve pieced together on my own (from the text) to support it. The point here is that Robert Frost had even come out and said that the poem was not, in fact, about death! And he was rather adamant about it. That doesn’t change the fact, however, that art is what reader or viewer makes it out to be. Since I believe gaming to be a form of art, I feel like it must also adhere to this standard.
In other words, Squall may be dead, or he may not have perished at the end of disc one. The player should take the story as it’s handed to him/her and explicate it as he/she sees fit. To me, one of the major themes of “you must live with the choices you have made” and “you cannot change the past, nor should you” remain the same, and, perhaps, are even bolstered by Squall’s arguable death. What is more permanent than death? And it’s simple to see that his choices left him at death’s metaphorical door (in this case, parade float). The multiple opportunities during the game after disc one where the party controls Laguna, Kiros, and Ward in Ellone’s dream sequences stamp the permanence of the past and the permanence of death.
But at the same time, if the player views the game as it plays out, without making the assumption that Squall is dying, they can grasp whatever they like from the experience. For example, it doesn’t matter that NORG is a bulbous alien salad fingers lurking far below Balamb Garden. What matters is why NORG has turned upon Headmaster Cid. What does this say about the nature of greed? We can see, in this case, that greed far out shadows the good that Garden was created to bring. The scenario questions the concept of loyalty, as Balamb is inevitably split between those loyal to NORG (some of whom have never met the beast) and those loyal to Cid, the caring headmaster who has given these students so much. Dying dream or waking horror is irrelevant in this particular instance, as it is in many scenarios across any medium.
The idea, though, is pretty unique (though definitely not completely original, i.e. Jacob ’s Ladder), particularly for a video game in its time. In fact, I like the idea. I can even get behind it, but for different reasons than trying to explain the plot. As I mentioned earlier, I believe it cements the themes that I’ve come to associate with Final Fantasy VIII. For those who need to rationalize the story of a game for the purpose of making sense, this article will not be for you. And if you debunk the theory with surface level facts, then, again, this article will not be for you. What this evolved into is a critical thinking experience, a completely opinionated musing on the significance of the theory of Squall’s alleged demise and why it doesn’t matter how any of us sees it. What matters is why we see what we see.
And lastly, if anyone tells you that your theories are wrong – simply smile and walk away. If you have a friendly debate on why you believe what you believe, that’s wonderful; I encourage it, even. But when told that your opinion is wrong – neglecting your first amendment right – then the person arguing has invalidated him/herself.