Time for a little Rinoaplasty

Playing through Final Fantasy VIII again for the first time in ten years has brought with it a surprising revelation: I actually really like the game’s characters! This is pretty rare with RPGs; generally, my favorite characters are the ones with no clearly defined personality and no dialogue. This is because most RPG writers are really terrible at their jobs and specialize in creating fictional people that I detest with every fiber of my being. Generally speaking, videogame characters exist along a sliding scale of annoyance, and silent guys are therefore the least annoying ones.

This is true even of FFVIII; everyone in the game has his or her boneheaded moments. Strangely enough, though, in this case that somehow adds to their likability. For example! Zell is irritatingly hyperactive and brash, but nevertheless he doesn’t come off as macho as you’d expect from a brawler — he’s the opposite of Final Fantasy XIII‘s Snow. He’s kind of a doofus, but he’s good-natured and earnest, eager to show off and easily deflated with a cruel rebuke or a word of rejection. Selphie is kind of like a lost and confused puppy, but she’s also a tech whiz with a habit of blurting out whatever’s on her mind, even when it’s wholly inappropriate. This makes her the best character to have in the party, because her dialogue wobbles between “vacuous” and “unsettling.” And much to my surprise, I don’t even mind Irvine and Quistis, despite the fact that their personalities are almost entirely defined by the fact that they have crushes on other cast members.

Even more surprising is that I actually like Squall. Yeah, he’s sulky and kind of whiny when he talks, but the game actually lets you see what he’s thinking — and his internal monologues give him a lot more depth than most people give him credit for. He’s not just a morose, self-involved jerk; on the contrary, he tends to be conscious of others’ feelings. He may shoot down Zell with his words, but inwardly he’s apologetic. He actively wonders if Selphie is slightly insane. I dunno, the more I play of the game, the more I realize he’s not a terrible character.

And that’s true despite the game’s best efforts to make him one. One of my favorite things I’ve discovered about FFVIII is that if you actually try to make Squall more social — for instance, if you accede to your classmate’s requests to check out your Gunblade or magic spells — the game actually punishes you. There’s something amusingly subversive about the fact that trying to play Squall as a nice guy is simply the wrong way to do it. Normally I’d be annoyed at a role-playing game that doesn’t let you role-play… but here, yeah. It’s kind of funny.

The one character I really can’t stand, unfortunately, is Rinoa. I say “unfortunately” because the crux of the game is that Squall — who I think is a pretty decent guy and a respectable player avatar! — is doomed to become smitten with her. I can’t for the life of me figure out why; she’s childish and annoying, and in fact the single stupidest sequence in the game is instigated by her asinine temper tantrum. She’s loud and poorly spoken. She’s genuinely sulky in the way that Squall tends to be unfairly stereotyped as. God, she actually calls Squall “MEANIE.” She is, basically, the videogame equivalent of Willy from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: A completely unlikable female lead with whom the protagonist falls in love, presumably out of some sense of bitter spite on the writers’ part. I’m not sure what I did to offend Kazushige Nojima, but the dude sure knows how to get even. Watching Squall mope over this idiot girl-child is almost the worst part of the game.

(The only reason it’s “almost” is because the act plodding around the huge, empty world map in a mobile school building is so crushingly tedious it’s nearly made me quit playing several times. It takes a lot to quash my natural compulsion to explore in a videogame, but man, Garden sure pushes the right buttons.)

Anyway, I guess the essence of my feelings about FFVIII’s cast is that the characters are all interesting. Flawed, sometimes head-slappingly so. But interesting. And I think that’s the single thing I demand from a game these days: Be interesting. I don’t have time to waste on something that’s going to bore me. So despite its sometimes-overwrought dialogue, its sometimes-idiotic plot twists, its sometimes-antiquated game design, I want to keep playing FFVIII because everything about it is interesting. Except Rinoa; the only interest I have in her is shoving her off a cliffside.

Mmm, shoving. Mmm, annoying idiot plummeting to death.

39 thoughts on “Time for a little Rinoaplasty

  1. Your closing remarks remind me of the scene where Laguna pushes both his friends off a cliff (http://lparchive.org/LetsPlay/FF8/chapter1-12.html).

    I don’t care for any of the main cast except Selphie and Zell (and the latter is only enjoyable to deride), but the game would have been a lot better if it were just about the misadventures of those guys.

  2. another thing I like about the FFVIII characters is that it doesn’t hassle you with many drawn-out and disruptive backstories. The game is perfectly complacent with not having the deepest characters, any depth is extrapolated on by the player. by primarily focusing on Squall and Rinoa it has this “realism” that no other FF really had

    in regard, i think FFVIII was, in a way, the last “mature” FF

  3. Yeah, I pretty much agree with you on all points. The best part of FFVIII is that it doesn’t have a character like FFXIII’s Hope. I’m really getting to hate that archetype.

  4. god, to this day, thoughts of selphie fill me with fury and annoyance. her fucking flippy hair. her giant ass ‘chucks. her hyper teen japanese attitude. she’s one of the main reasons i stopped playing that game entirely.

  5. Once, while exposing my brain to the unfiltered madness of a 4chan video game thread, I came across a post describing a convoluted fan-theory about the Squall-Rinoa romance that attempted to make the story make sense. Apparently Squall fell in love with such an uninteresting girl because she had coerced him using magic. Something about Rinoa actually being Ultimecea (or vice versa) and going through some kind of time travel mumbo-jumbo so that she could make Squall her knight against his will (much like Edea enchanted Seifer), and disrupt the “natural” time line where Squall and Quistis were destined to be together.

    There was more to the theory; it was actually justified pretty thoroughly, but my sanity shattered halfway through and I spent the next week huddled in a corner and gibbering to myself about sorceresses and time compression. Your concept of antagonistic writers is probably more realistic…

  6. There’s always been something I found unsettling about That One Girl in all the Nomura FF games. Yuffie, Selphie, Rikku, Penelo… basically it’s all the same character. The ostensibly adult-aged girl who acts like a hyperactive 6 year old. On their own, no big deal, but the fact that we always get one kinda pushes it into “OK, is this some kind of really creepy fetish I’m unaware of?” territory, you know? After a certain point I’m just forced to picture someone probing around image boards collecting pictures of little kids aged up and/or people being hypnotized into acting like kids.

  7. Squall is an insecure, emotionally disfunctional guy who tries to project a loner, self-sufficient image around him and falls for the first girl who, god knows why, tries to reach out for him in spite of his act. I can see how he would get smitten, even if the divorce lawyers might make a killing out of the messy relationship meltdown five years from now :p

  8. Yuffie’s excitable yet conniving, and Penelo is just nice. Selphie and Rikku are the hyper ones.

    On a different note, those monochrome images of the cast with their faces strategically obscured, interspersed with credits and all set to a dramatic and foreboding theme, completely makes up for the nonsense with white feathers and Latin chanting that comprises the game’s other opening.

  9. It’s too bad they didn’t keep the dating sim elements from FF7. Then you could pick somebody else to rescue from the vacuum of space.

  10. I can’t stand Rinoa as a character, but sometimes she makes up for a bit of her shortcomings by having her dog suplex Omega Weapon.

  11. It’s much the same with all my FF VIII-loving friends – we all love the game and the cast, with the exception of Rinoa, who seems to be little more than a living collective of every under-developed, immature trait any teen girl could be at risk of having. Squall, I found generally likable. But, I mourned that he had his hang-up about “being alone,” that caused him to be taken in by this first vacuous girl that approached him. I would still rather have played an entire game of Laguna and co. And I’d still rather that X-2 be played as Jecht & co.

  12. That’s pretty much how I felt about the characters during my second playthrough back in 2000 or so. I discovered Selphie’s blog and all the backstory info in the help menu on that playthough, and really broke the systems, abolished the random rule, etc….

    It’s a rare game that’s better on the second playthough, but I had a lot more fun on my second run.

  13. In terms of story, I’ve always considered FFVIII to be more of a character study than one with a focus on its plot. This was a refreshing breath of fresh air from FFVII, particularly with Squall whose inner monologue separated him from being what Cloud was at the beginning of FFVII.

    Rinoa was something of a screw up (On the writer’s part, I mean). Conceptually she makes sense – She’s the antithesis to the main character; the polar opposite that initially Squall finds to be annoying but then is supposed to fall in love with because she helps him to break out of the shell… This is entirely lost to us because there’s nothing for the audience to get behind. A vapid shell, and you touched on all the reasons why.

    If FFVIII is supposed to be ‘about the love story’, that’s great – I just wish they made everyone at least likable.

  14. When I played through Final Fantasy VIII for the first time recently I kept going back and forth between really liking the fact that the teenage cast actually acted like real teenagers and hating it because it meant that I had to spend forty hours with real teenagers. The one thing that I did consistently love, though, was that while almost the entire cast of playable characters spends large chunks of the game obsessing romantically over another person the way only a teenager can, the only thing Zell obsessed over was hot dogs. And in the ending while everybody else is enjoying the company of others, flirting and what have you, there’s Zell off in the corner with a humongous pile of hot dogs just inhaling them. That almost made up for all the painful romantic shenanigans.

  15. Wow, I’m really surprised by the positivity of the responses. Nice to see people are willing to look past the surface and stereotypes of this game.

    And lumping Selphie and Penelo with Yuffie/Eiko/Rikku/Vanille/Relm is a bit off the mark. Especially Penelo, who never acts like a child at all. Quite the contrary — she’s basically the surrogate mother to a bunch of orphans. Talking about judging by appearances!

  16. “Conceptually she makes sense – She’s the antithesis to the main character”
    The more I think about it, the more Rinoa makes sense and feels like she was purposefully put into the game. Think about it: if she’s the exact opposite of Squall, a complicated guy with a deep inner monologue, then obviously Rinoa is a vapid, emotionally immature woman-child with empty space between her ears. It’s like the writers took the command, ‘exact opposite’ a little too seriously and a little too far.

    Also, favorite part of the game: the entire disk where Rinoa is in a comma.

  17. There is one (thin) reason you would expect Squall to fall in love with Rinoa, but it’s too much of a spoiler to reveal out in the open here.

  18. Rinoaplasty. I love it. Do you spend time coming up with these puns, or do they just come to you?

  19. Even though I have no desire to play FFVIII, I think it would be interesting to see them take the character development system and use it in another game. I mean, yeah, the Job system is boss, but I like some of the other systems from FF games, too.

  20. I’m replaying this on PSP too, for the first time since 1999, and I’m having a blast. I’d chime in on how Squall is one of the better FF characters (the best one in Dissidia as well), and that Zell and Selphie’s zaniness are *charming* and not *annoying*, but I’m six or so hours in and STILL robbing everyone in Balamb Garden of their best cards. I’d progress the story but Triple Triad… oh my god, how did Square make digital crack like this so potent? Maybe no one likes Squall because he’s such a ruthless card shark?

  21. I bought this game on ebay a couple years ago and played through it, honestly looking for something to hate, but after the experience was said and done I just felt like a damn good game. I pretty much agree with your thoughts on squall, I didnt loath Rinoa quite as much as you but yeah, I am squalls age right now and I would reciprocate any sort of attraction, no matter how annoying, were I in his position, I think. . .

  22. That’s… a fair point. Looking back, I had crushes on my fair share of people who make me wonder whatever I could have been thinking. I did not, however, carry them on my back across an entire ocean.

  23. I liked Squall’s inner monologues, and the general down-to-earthness of most of the cast, but Laguna’s the best. His personality and his story arc are both unrivaled within the Final Fantasy series.

    … while almost the entire cast of playable characters spends large chunks of the game obsessing romantically over another person the way only a teenager can, the only thing Zell obsessed over was hot dogs.

    He also had a crush on a girl at the library.

  24. I never really understood all the hate 8 took, and I feel a little vindication in this. Yeah, Squall is a good character, really! To echo some of the above comments, though, I’m not really sure what the writers were going for with Rinoa. It’s like they couldn’t figure out how to make a character a love interest and major plot device, yet spunky and independent at the same time. She doesn’t seem “real” like most of the other characters do.

    Now, if everyone could recognize 9 as the steaming pile of immature crap it was (Princess Garnet being the sole exception), I’ll have quite the strut going.

  25. You post about it and post about it. Fine! I’ll finally get around to playing FFVIII! Is that what you wanted?!

    I was going to finally get around to trying VII next, but now VIII it is. Just as soon as I finish Persona 2.

  26. I appreciate VIII for what it was and what it tried to accomplish in bringing innovation to the series. Looking back, and after reading that epic “Let’s Play FF8” series, my only major complaint is the dialogue. Someone pointed out earlier that the characters are teenagers, and yes teenage angst can be ridiculous. But I’m fairly certain my angst and my friends’ angst was more mature.

    Also, like other FFs, the primary antagonist shows up way too late in the game. I’d prefer a more focused plot, perhaps keeping Seifer and Edea as the antagonists with only references to Adel and Ultamecia (sp?).

  27. The surprise villain was a terrible part of 8, I agree. Makes me wonder why they decided to make it even worse in 9, though…

  28. To be honest, Rinoa annoyed me less than Irvine/Quistis. You hit the nail on the head, those two are defined JUST by having crushes on other party members. What’s worse is that they’re actually interesting, but the game just demotes them. Quistis starts off really interesting as the teacher, then loses her job, then… dies off of the story for the rest of the game. Irvine starts off to be more than a stereotypical ladies man in Deling, but then he just turns into Selphie’s stalker.

  29. I have been wanting to write at length about FFVIII for quite a while, but I think most of the points here have really been stated. The best characters in FFVIII are those that are fully fleshed out — Zell and Selphie are among the best, because of their really subtle nuances.

    Like, one thing you didn’t mention is how Zell, despite looking to be the stereotypical hot-headed brawler, is actually really studious and in a way booksmart (like when you visit the Deep Sea Research Center lategame)… or, at least, fits the personality of a rash and hotheaded young man who’s all too self-conscious of his ‘stereotype’ and is trying to compensate for it.

    And *thank* you for saying that about Squall. One of the things I can’t comprehend a lot about complains about his character is that he’s ‘whiny’ and ’emo’, and… I just don’t really see it as fitting that. He’s characterized in the first two discs as being driven and job-focused, and he’s irritated at all the people that want him to listen to their problems.

    A sentiment that I found great to be personified as a player avatar, especially in this more modern internet time, really, than when FFVIII was written.

    Also, yes, you sometimes are punished for making Squall more social — but I remember more times where it IS actually just granted, such as if you backpedal and apologize to Rinoa at Timber, or when you actually let Squall agree to help Selphie with the Garden committee.

    Rinoa is a strange case, because I get the feeling that they *intentionally* wrote her to be the annoying, childish and below-ocean-level sort of RPG princess archetype… except the writers somewhat failed to make her sympathetic.

    I say intentionally because of all the focus in how ridiculous her plans are. She’s a runaway daughter of a military general who thinks that she can liberate a country by, as the game quotes, “plopping down on the floor to discuss strategy.” Her plans are harebrained, and the recruits she got obviously have no military or combat training.

    She’s written as a foil to the very precise, measured and professional SeeDs. (The same cutscene makes a humor point out of the Legalese Balamb Garden speaks in that no one can understand).

    But yes, I think I understand her concept as being intentionally unprofessional and emotional overall. It doesn’t stop me — and others — from watching her drift off into space in Disc 3 a few dozen times, though! :)

    One more major character you didn’t refer to that I think really suffered in writing and screentime is Seifer, who… sort of languishes really badly for most of the game and fails to have any sort of epiphany or development past being a complete tool and puppet, despite starting the game off as a strong, brash foil to Squall’s rationed introversion.

    Just my thoughts.

  30. Yeah, I recall a recent article on 1up about FF13 where the SquareEnix employee broke down the Final Fantasies and listed characteristics inherent to the franchise. He mentioned something about the protagonist must come along later in the game and be unexpected… I think. Something like that. I just remember getting really frustrated when I read that part. Parish, perhaps you can recall the specifics.

  31. See, it might have taken a disk or two before the good people of Balamb Garden realized that there was a darker, hidden evil behind the Sorcerer and Seifer… but at least they came clean by the halfway mark. Compare that to FF9 where we learn about the existence of the ultimate evil by way of its own introduction right before you fight it. Worst FF story ever.

  32. I have played FF8 eleven or so times now(not played in years), like most of everybody I had a triple triad addiction too. I can honestly say I never disliked Rinoa at all, in fact I like her. She usually made it into my final party along with Squall and Zell due to me liking them and their limit breaks (Irvine has good limit breaks too but needs ammo).
    The thing is, she tends to hold the group together and cheer them up, like Selphie a bit she is good at trying to look on the bright side at times. Sure she has flaws but those are what make her seem like a real person instead of some cliched rpg archetype.

    “Someone pointed out earlier that the characters are teenagers, and yes teenage angst can be ridiculous. But I’m fairly certain my angst and my friends’ angst was more mature.” – Rand
    You and your friends were orphans at a young age and later underwent military training (that also caused you to lose some of your memories) to become mercenaries and begun fighting trained soldiers, battle androids and monsters such as T-Rexes?
    The thing is, their “angst” is appropriate to the situation, a lot more so than teenagers I see crying their emo eyes out over not having a date then jumping round to Disturbed, Linkin Park, My Chemical Romance etc in some bizarre rage fit over “how life is so unfair”.

    “Squall her knight against his will (much like Edea enchanted Seifer), and disrupt the “natural” time line where Squall and Quistis were destined to be together.” – Gibberingloon
    I would not regard failchan as a source of intellect, the majority of its populace are morons who band together as “anon” because they are really powerless schmucks who need to feel safety and a sense of acceptance in the group.
    On the theory though, it sounds like band fanfic to me. Quistis is shown to back away from Squall because she was infatuated with him, she had no real reason to be in love with Squall. Oh and I find Quistis to be an extremely shallow character. There were times I used her, mainly to use a laser eye on Adel during a certain rescue. She comes off like an older sister or aunt/mother though.

    “It’s too bad they didn’t keep the dating sim elements from FF7. Then you could pick somebody else to rescue from the vacuum of space.” – Sanagi
    Tifa was full of depth wasn’t she? I believe it was stored somewhere in her huge breasts. The reason you can do the whole harem dating junk in somethings is because the creators focused more on the story and less on character development and intrinseque values for the characters. The game focused more on story than it did on character development, I could name of a cliche and that is about all they are.

    Personally I would go for a person like Rinoa, she is compassionate, she is emotional (do you want to date a stoic person?), brave to go against an occupational force if a little impulsive and do not forget she was younger then so still had room to grow as a person.

    “Squall is an insecure, emotionally disfunctional guy who tries to project a loner, self-sufficient image around him and falls for the first girl who, god knows why, tries to reach out for him in spite of his act” – Positronic Brain
    First? I am sure Quistis as a teacher did, the doctor to an extend did. I imagine plenty of women did. It is a matter of trusting somebody to let your guard down and actually syncing with them. People do not end up with who you think they should and what appeals to *you*, they end up with what appeals to them.
    Throwing out my own conjecture now but I believe Squall & Rinoa are sort of what Laguna & Julia never got around to being because Laguna did not build up the nerve due to his introversion. Rinoa is a bit more feisty though and so Squall got swept in eventually.

    Last FF game I played (besides FF RW which sucked) was FFX, played most of them Trigger & cross too if you are including them) 8 remains my favourite for the character development and the atmosphere (and and the junction system, yeah I said it. I loved it). I am not too interested in playing another game with the same remixed archetype characters fighting “the evil empire” though so SquareEnix can take their oh so shiny sequel upon sequels with a bajillion polygons and interchangeable miniskirts and shove it.

  33. It’s vindicating to see that people are still able to take notice of something that we who have played Final Fantasy VIII multiple times through saw from the outset.

    While I have never really disliked a Final Fantasy game outside of when I played Final Fantasy II on the Famicom and every time I try to find a truly redeeming factor in Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy VIII was the FF game that I could tell had it together, especially with the cast’s writing: Squall is a guy who would like to be close to people, but is so awful at socializing that he realizes any effort spent making friends would inevitably wind up as effort spent on damage control from screwing up. Zell is, as you described, “good-natured,” and there’s no other way around it. Selphie is a small girl whose former lives would probably make a lesser man green in the gills. Quistis is too obsessed with fitting in with the other youngsters to be effective as a group mom, or viable love interest (such wasted potential). Irvine’s primary character trait is that he’s the transfer student, the outsider, and really is sort of a loner though he not-so-secretly would like to not be treated as such, which the game manifests as a running gag throughout. And then Rinoa. She’s a teenage girl, and I find her rather annoying. She works her way under the player’s skin, she works her way under the entire cast’s skin, as they all (Irvine excluded) seem to have some measure of disdain for her, and she works her way under Squall’s skin, but he ends up liking her because he’s apparently wired differently from his peers. Rinoa’s role as the “true” outsider (not in the Irvine sense) can be seen in the character art. I don’t know if I’m the only one who’s ever noticed this, but look at Nomura’s official artwork. All the characters have blue/green/blue-green eyes…. except for Rinoa. Her eyes are brown. She is not one of them. It’s not like teenagers are the best judges of a quality mate. Quistis would’ve been a decent parent, and Selphie would’ve kept things interesting just short of serial murder. Rinoa doesn’t bring anything but herself to the table. I don’t think the Fremen would’ve accepted her into their clan for her water.

    I will disagree, however, on the point about the world map. I would argue that Final Fantasy VIII has the single best world map that any RPG has played host to this side of Tales of Eternia. The fact that you spend so much time navigating it in your lumbering school actually reinforces the realness of it all. While in the Garden, the camera angle is low to the ground, and when you’re traveling across the ocean, you feel like you’re sailing. It also has the best town design, with coastal towns looking coastal and towns in the middle of nowhere looking like they’re in the middle of nowhere. The world map seems empty no thanks in part to the overworld theme which drips of boredom, but is filled with some locations that you would not have to visit otherwise but add to the story or give you cool stuff. And then they give you competent transportation and you realize that you could’ve accessed a good bit of the stuff earlier in the game with well controlled island-hopping in the Garden.

    Jury’s still out on why in the hell there was an orphanage at the ass-end of the world, though.

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