Final Fantasy VIII started development in 1997, during Final Fantasy VII’s release. Both games share many of the same themes, one of them being the impermanence of memory. However, Final Fantasy VIII is more subtle about this theme. Instead of making it central to the story, the writers have each character mention it in passing. That is, they can’t remember. According to Final Fantasy VIII’s lore,
…long-term junctioning causes memory loss (as seen with Selphie and the unnamed GF she junctioned when she was a child), because the Guardian Force draws power from the same section of the mind that stores memories. This, however, is only a plot point; junctioning has no negative effects on the characters during gameplay. Memory loss is stated to be the reason the use of Guardian Forces is widely criticized, and within Garden, Balamb Garden is the only school where their use has been approved.
This plot point sets up the Orphanage scene. Many fans complain it came out of nowhere, but after replaying you can see how they wouldn’t remember. They have a short-term memory. Throughout the script, characters can’t recall things a normal human would. I searched for the word “remember” in Final Fantasy VIII’s script and found 42 instances of the word. Not everyone who says it belongs to SeeD. But the SeeD members reveal something about the harm of junctioning GFs.
In the Fire Cavern on our first mission, Quistis asks Squall:
Quistis: “Squall, you still remember? The R1 is the trigger. Pull it just as you strike. Same for the Renzokuken!”
He should remember how to battle. But as his Instructor, she wants to make sure the Guardian Forces didn’t wipe his memory.
Quistis: “Hey, do you remember? Going to the ‘secret place’ together, the night you became a SeeD? You gave me the cold shoulder. But maybe now you understand how I felt. Sometimes people need someone to talk to.”
Didn’t it happen a few days prior? Under normal situations, Squall would forget so suddenly, so no need to ask.
Irvine: “‘Cause you two seemed to have forgotten! It just kinda sucked that I was the only one who remembered… Spunky little Sefie and bossy little Quisty.”
Zell: “Hey… Do you guys remember setting off fireworks?”
Here, Irvine’s explaining how they each grew up in an orphanage. Zell asks if others if they remember doing things together as a group. That’s common for most people, it was so long ago. But then he asks something strange:
Zell: “If I remember this, does that mean I was there, too?”
Well, of course. But this is what’s so sad about SeeD. Their identity isn’t stable. They really can’t remember if what they experience is real or not. It’s also slightly scary.
Quistis: “I…remember. Yes, I remember now. Things didn’t work out too well at my new home. So I came to Garden at the age of 10. That was when I was first noticed by Seifer and Squall. Seifer and Squall were always fighting.”
You can tell from their “aha!” moments that they’re physically struggling to remember. In a sense, it’s like the Guardian Forces are controlling their minds, and they have to break free. Later, they come to the truth:
Zell: “So if we keep relying on the GF, we won’t be able to remember a lot of things?”
Quistis: “There’s no way Headmaster Cid would allow such a dangerous thing!”
Irvine: “Then how is it that I remember, while everyone else has forgotten? Well…? In my case, I hadn’t junctioned a GF until recently. That’s why I remember a lot more than you guys.”
Quistis: “How about you, Selphie? Your first experience with the GF was when you came to Balamb Garden, right?”
Selphie: “…Yeah. I have a confession to make! When I was 12, I went to an outdoor training session. I found a GF inside one of the monsters I defeated… I junctioned that GF for a while. So I have experience with GF, too. But…but, it’s really weird! I can’t remember the name of that GF!”
Quistis: “It must be the GF’s fault. …What should we do?”
But wouldn’t they know this? They should, but probably forgot it – which makes the GFs so dangerous.
Here’s a plot twist Final Fantasy VIII never followed. What if they had to fight Headmaster Cid for their memories? Of course, Squaresoft wasn’t in the tradition of making Cid the villain. Plus it wouldn’t have fit; Cid Kramer’s not the villainous type.
In passing, Zell remarks:
Zell: “Are you sure that’s what you want!? Maybe…that’s for the best. Yeah…I don’t care if I forget about my childhood when Seifer used to pick on me. What’s important to me now is having the power to protect my parents in Balamb. They adopted me. There’s no way I’m lettin’ go of that power!”
Maybe this is something we as the player should reflect on as well?
Quistis: “Hey… Do you all remember Matron?”
Matron becomes Edea the Sorceress. Of course, they might not recognize with her costume, or since it’s been so long. But Quistis asks anyways, probably nervously, to make sure she was really there.
Squall does remember a few people who are special to him.
Squall: “I can’t remember anything about my parents… But…Ellone was there for me. Ellone was there to hold my hand.”
This raises the question: why do they remember anything at all? Laguna explains this:
Laguna: “That’s the spirit! Then, Ellone sends Rinoa and [Ultimecia to the past]! Ellone [brings back Rinoa]! Then, [head to the future through compressed time]! Ultimecia lives far in the future where none of us can technically exist. There’s only one way to make yourself exist in a world like that! As friends, don’t forget one another! As friends believe in one another! Believe in your friends’ existence! And they’ll also believe in yours. To be friends, to like one another, and to love one another… You can’t do these things alone. You need somebody. Right, guys? What place reminds you of your friends? Imagine being in that place with all your friends. Once time compression begins, think of that place and try to get there! That’s all! That place will welcome you. You’ll be able to get there no matter what period you’re in! You need love and friendship for this mission! And the courage to believe it. It’s all about love, friendship, and courage! I’m counting on you guys!”
Only through memorizing each other can they be sure of their existence.
Why so subtle? Maybe they didn’t want to repeat Final Fantasy VII’s theme. But this is a mistake. This theme of memory stands on its own and would have added much-needed depth to the story. The orphanage scene would have been saddening, to know all these friends simply forget an element of their childhood.
Maybe if they make a remake for Final Fantasy VIII, they’ll follow this theme more closely?