Final Fantasy VIII was the first of the franchise I ever picked up. It was my first exposure to a longstanding series of games that captivated multiple generations of people. I played and replayed this game during various points in my life, the first being when I was eight years old. As my introduction to the series I thought Squall was impossibly cool, I loved the way he dressed, I immediately developed a crush on Seifer Almasy, and I thought Rinoa was the prettiest character I had ever seen. (A lot of these feelings still persist — I still think Rinoa is one of the most beautiful characters in the franchise, I still have an unreasonable crush on Seifer, and I still think Squall is cool, though I now find his personal growth in the game exceptionally meaningful as someone who still struggles with verbalizing their feelings and thoughts to others.) I ended up revisiting this game again when I was in middle school, excited to show it to a group of friends I had just made.
On my twelfth birthday I invited two of them to sleep over and I played through a the first disc of the game for them. We stayed up all night, excitedly chatting about SeeD, the Guardian Forces and their designs, and who our favorite characters were. None of us necessarily understood the message of the game as we junctioned Ifrit and Siren and Shiva to our primary party of Squall, Rinoa, and Quistis. I never finished playing the game for them, Final Fantasy VIII being too long to complete in a single evening, and a year later when our fixation shifted elsewhere my life changed.
When I was thirteen years old I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I want to say that this didn’t change me, but I guess in a way it did though not immediately. I still felt very much like myself, just with a better understanding of why I was behaving the way I was at the time — the mood swings and suicidal thoughts and everything that accompanies an early diagnosis. I was put on medication, a singular pill that became three once I was institutionalised for the second time when I was nineteen or twenty. I can’t remember the age or year exactly anymore, the only thing I can remember about that time is that it was summer and I had mosquito bites all over my legs.
As I’ve gotten older and my mental illness has progressed these instances have become more severe. My episodes have become more frequent and my mind has become almost perpetually submerged in what I can only describe as fog.
It’s hard for me to remember what I did five years ago, the names of the friends I had and the distinct smells or buildings of the cities I used to live in. Today it’s hard for me to remember what I ate for breakfast yesterday as my mental illness continues to consume my mind, blanketing everything I do and everything I’ve done in that fog.
“ Time.. It will not wait… No matter… how hard you hold on. It escapes you… And…”
As a child I found these words puzzling, unaware of the gravity of this sentiment, and as an adult I find them relatable if not incredibly melancholic.
Sometimes I wonder about all of the things I’ve forgotten — everything that’s slipped through the cracks of my worsening memory. I wonder about the things I did or the the things I’ve felt. Sometimes they return to me in bits and pieces — the name of my childhood pet, the present I got from my mother during my thirteenth birthday — but they only come back in extremely vivid moments of clarity. These instances are fleeting, lasting maybe a few minutes before all of it slips away and I’m desperately trying to remember what age I was when I my parents divorced or when I had my first kiss.
Ultimecia, the major antagonist of Final Fantasy VIII, is a character shrouded in mystery. Her presence in the game isn’t entirely overt as she passes from body to body and from sorceress to sorceress in an attempt to still the passing of time. We as the player are never given a complete explanation to her motivations other than a few lines of a dialogue that pop up turns before you defeat her. All we know about her is that she is a sorceress and that makes her capable of powerful and terrifying magics, and that she’s forgotten events in her life that she sorely wants to remember.
Final Fantasy VIII may not objectively be the best Final Fantasy game within the series in any regard, opinions remain divisive even to this day. But Final Fantasy VIII is a game that focuses on the passing of time; the forming of relationships, the things we gain from them, and the memories we desperately want to keep close even as they gradually slip away. The final moments of this entry mean an impossible amount to me. I see myself in Ultimecia, desperately clawing for the memories she’s lost to the unkind passage of time. And maybe seeing a reflection of our experiences, even vaguely, in a game is enough to make a questionable entry a great one.