Much like FFVII before it, the game’s title screen depicts an object, the significance of which only becomes clear past the midpoint of the story’s progression. I’ve always been drawn to this title screen, particularly with how the red was utilised – it’s one of my favourite colours and I feel it was used well here. A part of me does enjoy how much more silent VII’s title screen felt, though. Neither feature sound, but the lonely shot of the Buster Sword puts me in a contemplative mood.
The introductory FMV begins soon after the player hits New Game. Waves on a shore can be seen as a voice chants four words: “Fithos, Lusec, Wecos, Vinosec”. The music kicks in, and the camera moves forward into the ocean; eventually, the shot dissolves into desert plains. As the video rolls, the following text fades in and out.
“I’ll be here…”
“I’ll be ‘waiting’ here…”
“I’ll be waiting for you… so…
If you come here… You’ll find me. I promise.”
The shot finally arrives at a flower field, where our heroine, Rinoa, stands surrounded by falling flower petals. Catching one in her hand, it turns into a white feather; she releases it, and it flies away into the sky. Day turns into night, and with a strike of lightning, something comes down: not a feather, but a sword. The image of a mysterious woman can be seen in the background.
Somewhere, away from the bright flower field, two men are engaged in combat. They appear equally matched – the man wearing white, Seifer, gives off a cocky demeanor; Squall, our black-clothed protagonist, presents a more serious one. As the two men exchange blows with each other, the FMV inserts a number of shots of Rinoa and the mystery woman, as if to put them in opposition to each other.
This FMV is particularly heavy on colour coding, although it goes about it in some unexpected ways. Many of us recognise that white is often coded as something good, symbolising safety and purity, whereas black is reserved for something powerful and potentially dangerous. Following the logic that many stories use, one would assume that Seifer is the knight in shining armor and Squall is the evil antagonist.
This line of thought also leads us to expect something similar from light and dark colour shades, leading to the assumption that the girl wearing light blue is good, and the woman wearing black must be bad. Anybody sharing the same colour code is likely on the same side. FFVIII however, throws us for a loop. As the duel presses on, two shots unrelated to the duel are shown of Seifer and the mystery woman under the same orange lighting – not too surprising given Seifer’s behaviour during the battle, but then the game pulls the same trick again except with Rinoa.
Seifer, despite his white coat, is clearly not someone we should be favouring; our protagonist is wearing black; white-coded Rinoa is under the same light as our mystery woman. The question comes up of what we’re meant to expect from these characters past the introduction. Can we rely on what we see on the surface to determine their true nature?
Squall rushes at his opponent, his outstretched arm indicating his intention to use a spell, but it’s too late: Seifer casts first. With a blast of Fire magic, Squall is knocked back onto the ground. Before he is able to recover from his fall, Seifer strikes at his face, and blood is spilt. Seifer’s expression sends the message that he has zero moral dilemmas about taking any advantage he can. Our protagonist takes a quick moment to process his injury, then swiftly returns the favour to his rival.
The FMV flashes through multiple shots of the four characters at different points of the game’s events, giving the viewer a taste of what is to come in the future. Finally settling on a scene between Squall and Rinoa, the two move to embrace each other, with the audience expecting the two to end up in each others arms. However, the shot instead cuts to black. The FMV ends with an image of the game’s logo, an artist’s rendition of what has yet to occur. The message is clear: this is a game that will focus on love, identity, and relationships.
…Except I don’t think it ended up being that clear at all in the end. The number of times I’ve heard people say that this opening was nothing but a fancy show with no substance is nothing short of surprising to me, but over the years I’ve come to really understand what the big problem is with this game. I do feel there are many layers to this opening, though, some of which I have yet to discuss.
This might be reaching, but I always felt that the opening shots of the beach, desert, and flower field were symbolic of time and place, especially with the text that accompanied them. Not to get too spoilery, but both are pushed as important elements of the story. The use of colour and body language tells the player that each character has more to show behind their exteriors. Additionally, Rinoa being surrounded by flower petals has always been very evocative of romance to me, as well as the fragility of life – I imagine this is because of how media tends to utilise the imagery of falling petals.
Furthermore, the song “Liberi Fatali”, translated as “Fated Children”, plays for the duration of the opening. As the majority of the song is in Latin, I completely missed the point of it on initial playthroughs. Like yeah, I thought about fate and destiny, but only because that’s what comes to mind when there’s an epic battle set to Latin chanting. However, these days I have access to the internet. You can find a full translation of the song on the FF Wikia, but this is the general gist of it:
- Someone is calling out for “fated children” to awaken.
- The years of their youth have long since passed.
- The children must go to a garden of truth.
- Armed with truth, they must take on the darkness enveloping the world.
- They have to stay strong during the “fateful days”.
- “Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec” is an anagram for “Succession of Witches” and “Love”.
Getting back to why so many people say nothing happens in this opening, I honestly don’t blame them at all. There’s one thing FFVIII isn’t good at, and it’s a problem that persists throughout the majority of the story: it fails at making plot developments satisfying. The game will often introduce or build up to a plot point, and then do little to nothing with it. There are a number of times you wish the game would just state the obvious, or do more with a character you find intriguing, but it simply won’t go anywhere you wish it would.
It also won’t develop certain plot elements until they become relevant enough for plot progression, let alone make it obvious they’re there. Wanna know more about the moon? Look forward to waiting three discs to remember it has relevance… if you thought it did in the first place. The development for it wasn’t satisfying enough? Too bad, that’s all you’re gonna get. Amusingly, this is a flaw RWBY has as well: you’ll spend weeks wanting to learn more about something, then it turns out a main character learnt more before you offscreen, conveniently only mentioning so when it suits the plot. I love RWBY more than any other show, but some of the writing leaves me feeling deflated.
So when FFVIII doesn’t elaborate on the significance of its opening, I don’t blame people who don’t get it. I’ve dreaded writing about this FMV since I decided to do this project – it doesn’t lead to anything immediately important and is basically a teaser. The game doesn’t even try to make the mood of the sequence flow into the next section – the most you’ll pick up for now is that Squall and Seifer now have a scar on their forehead for the rest of the game. Love the FMV, but that’s not a lot.
Anyway, I’ll end this update with a video I found on YouTube – it’s Dead Fantasy IV being compared with the FFVIII opening. I encourage taking a look so you can see for yourself an instance in which Monty paid tribute to the game. I remember my first time watching Dead Fantasy IV, and to be honest, I couldn’t help but want to laugh all the way through. Everything was just so blatant. Oh, Monty. We love you.
Next time on Retracing Steps,
Beacon Academy Balamb Garden.