Wednesday, November 5, 2014

TEXT PLAY: Final Fantasy VIII (SquareSoft, 1999; Playstation): Issue #015: Balam Garden II: The Search For Cid

I think I may be getting my Star Trek movies mixed up here...

But Trek movies aside, where we left off last time, Squall, Quistis and Rinoa had just gotten back to Balam Garden and were relieved to see that the place hadn't been nuked yet. The missiles are on their way, of course, but there are slightly more immediate issues to be revealed shortly.

As luck would have it, just beyond the main gate, it seems that all hell has broken loose due to some weird thing that happened while Squall and the others were away. Everybody's broken into factions supporting either Headmaster Cid or some guy called Garden Master NORG. It's all in caps like that, too. The Garden Faculty are all on NORG's side, while it seems like a lot of the members of SeeD are on Cid's side. The students seem about 50/50 between the two groups. All anybody seems willing to tell us about what's going on here is that there are indeed factions and that Cid's the only one who really knows what's going on for sure.

The trick here is that the only person who knows for sure where Cid is is his assistant Xu, and the only way we're going to find her is to go around the Garden and make sure all Cid's other supporters are safe first. Since this NORG dude's people let the monsters out of the Training Center to use them against Cid's guys, there's a fair bit of fighting that needs to be done. Wouldn't be so bad, were it not for the T-Rex monsters in there, and even those aren't so bad now. At least they've got something called Dino Bones to steal and can be turned into halfway decent cards.

One thing that does still kinda bug me about this game is how bad the mercenaries from this company in the soldiers-for-hire business seem to be at actual fighting. Squall and team seem to be the only ones who are even halfway decent at there jobs right now, it seems, and these are people who were claiming to be unable to fight without their weapons when they were breaking out of the D-DISTRICT prison a few in-game hours ago. Why does it seem like nobody else there has the good sense to carry a sword or a gun or a whip or something? At least they are doing something in that they're trying to get NORG's forces to spread themselves thin looking for where Cid really is.

Raijin and Fujin have made it back from Galbadia and are waiting for Squall and the others in the main lobby at Balam. They're pretty much just like everybody else in that they don't know shit about what's going on. When Squall explains to them about the missiles, Raijin and Fujin say they'll tell everybody the can and then go looking for their buddy Seifer because their efforts as the Discipline Committee have gone to hell on them. Raijin says they're doing it out of loyalty to their friend. Squall wonders, at least to himself, if they know that Seifer's sworn himself to the Sorceress, and if so, if they're OK with that. A legitimate concern, of course, but with the kind of loyalty they show, one would think they would be.

Since this is a long, tedious process, I'll be taking it slowly, over the course of two or three play sessions, stopping at each save point to rest. It's something I wish I'd had the foresight to do with the prison chapter, but I've learned my lesson about it this time. Plus, there's what I had to be reminded of in the last FF6 chapter, in that I learned in college it's best to write with a clear mind.

Continuing on, the Garden Faculty guarding the parking lot actually has a decent monster with him for a change. He's got a dragon-type beast called a Grendel. Kinda makes me wonder if I'll run into Sir Gawain the Green Knight at some point. At any rate, the Grendel has the Double spell. I think I might have mentioned having a couple other shots at this spell. It's a good one to have for putting on stats, now that I've got the party's magic stat high enough to actually draw it. Even though I'm generally a heavy magic user when I play games like this and would ordinarily like spells like Double, or Triple, which we get later, in this case, it's not such a nifty thing. It's mostly because we use spell charges in this game, and the more charges of a given spell are junctioned to stats, the better, which would make it kind of dumb to go casting two or three spells per turn.

The SeeDs hiding out in the parking lot have a hologram machine that puts out a good enough facsimile of Cid that Squall thinks it's the real thing until the guy running it shuts it off. Unless the one they've got going in the parking lot is the only one they've got working, I have to wonder why SeeD isn't using more of these things to keep the NORG guys off guard. Hell, unless Squall's really as dumb as parts of the Final Fantasy community give him credit for being, that holographic Cid sounds like it's a voice upgrade away from being the EMH from Voyager (especially this).

Of course, the guy guarding the dorms has a comparatively weak monster, one that makes it seem like the dorms were meant as th halfway point of this quest. The only thing of any real note I found in Squall's room was the save point, where I thought I'd take a quick break and fix myself some dinner, since I was doing that segment at a more reasonable hour than usual.

After the dorms, the three remaining areas, the Quad, the dining hall, and student health, are all quite a bit emptier than one might expect, simply because they'd be places to hide, at the very least. With all the fighting going on, the only wounded person we see here is right outside the infirmary, and he doesn't get hurt until after the fight with the NORG guys. Given that there don't seem to have been any other injuries or worse, deaths, up to that point, I'm surprised there weren't more people hiding in the Quad, which is where Selphie was setting up her Garden Festival. Stranger still, the parts that had already been set up before Selphie got sent on assignment with Squall and Zell were still in relatively good shape, all things considered.

There are also only four people in the dining hall, which seems strange to me. I know this military school is supposed to be vastly different from the land-grant agricultural school I graduated from, but my memories of the food service locations were that the places were almost always busy, even at the most seemingly improbable hours. It oftentimes seemed as though the two places I most often visited were almost always either busy or closed, especially the University Student Union, so I have to wonder how it is that there are only four people there, and none of them seem to be taking advantage of the opportunity to load up on free hot dogs, since hot dogs are the game's equivalent of the ramen that was so popular when I was in school.

After we help the wounded guy at the student health center and talk with the head medic, Dr. Kadowaki, who strangely seems to have time to play cards with us in spite of the fact that she should be busier than a one-legged man at an ass-kicking contest, we see Cid's assistant Xu run off to the elevator at the center of the Garden. She gets on and goes up to the second floor just ahead of Squall and party. When they catch her on the second floor, Xu asks which side they're on, Squall tells her the truth, that they're not on any side and have more pressing things to deal with, as those missiles Selphie and the others had been trying to stop may very well be on their way, and they need to go see Cid right the hell now so they can get the word out. Since Quistis and Rinoa seem just as convinced of this as Squall does, Xu goes to tell Cid and wants Squall's team to meet her at Cid's office one floor up.

By the time Squall's bunch gets there, Xu has convinced Cid of the urgency of Squall's message and is off to help Fujin and Raijin spread the word and get everybody out in hopes of keeping them safe just in case the missiles are really on their way and actually do hit.

Cid's first order to Squall and the others is to abandon base just like everybody else is supposed to do. When Squall and Quisits ask where they should meet him, Cid says he's staying behind because there's some sort of secret to the Garden that he's going to check out. I may just be making random, false connections here, but it seems like this secret may be the thing the fighting's about.

Of course, because Cid's old (read roughly the equivalent of my age as I write this [37]), he gets chest pains or something and says that he's getting too old for that shit. Squall says he'll stay and go in Cid's place, since it's important enough for Cid to risk his life for. Quistis and Rinoa say they'll go, too, just to have a full party. Cid asks Squall why, but Squall won't say, in spite of having lots of good reasons. What, “This place is my home, too!” is too embarrassing a thing for Squall to say? So, Cid tosses Squall an elevator key and says to take the elevator all the way down to a secret level, where they'll find some sort of machinery that was just there when Cid had the place remodeled into the Garden.

On the way down, the power in the elevator goes out, causing it to jam just before it gets where Squall and team are headed. There's an escape hatch in the floor that can just be opened, but Squall has to hit the control panel to see if it'll work all the same before he can open the hatch. There's a ladder that leads to a secret passage below the hatch, and the party gets there just before the elevator falls on them.

The passage is actually part of an old oil storage system beneath the Garden facility. Squall explains the system for adding elemental aspects to attacks and defense and suggests adding the fire element to people's attacks if possible, because that's what the monsters are weak to. I know it's been awhile since I've griped about the tutorials in this game, and I feel kind of weird about doing it now. It's just that I could swear they explained this sort of thing at the start of the game, and yet here we are, measurably into the second disk and they're explaining it again.

There are a few button mashing and switch puzzles in this part of the game. I really hate button mashing puzzles, in part because I've always been crap at them, even when I was young. I've just never had the reflexes for it. So, when we get to the part where there's a door to be opened by turning a big valve handle, I wind up failing until all three party members are turning it. Then again, I'm not sure why that wouldn't need to be the case anyway, since we're talking about a handle that hasn't been moved in a good twenty years and is under quite a lot of pressure.

Not long after, there's a “But Thou Must” sort of thing, where the other members of Squall's party ask him for orders regarding a ladder they find at the far side of an apparent dead end. We're given three options: go as a group, have just Squall go, or send somebody else. I went for the go as a party because I thought it was a viable option, but the other party members have none of it, so it falls to Squall to just go himself. The ladder falls as he goes up it, conveniently landing him in a control room that grants access to the bottom of the tank the part's going down in.

At the bottom of the well, there's one more lever to flip before going on to an obvious boss fight, as foretold by the convenient save point right there. Good thing it was there, too, because I died in this boss fight. I don't recall having died yet in this run. This time, it's two more slug monsters that are weak against fire. I'm not entirely sure how I screwed up the first time, but it happens.

Beyond the door the monsters were guarding is another big chunk of machinery and a control room. Quisits and Rinoa just stand there looking at the control panel in front of them, apparently plenty happy to just let Squall be the one to start fucking with it in hopes that something happens.

Naturally, it does, of course. Whatever combination of controls Squall pushed made the equipment start up and send the control platform shooting up four stories, straight into Cid's office. At the same time, Balam Garden turns into one of the goofy vehicles that Final Fantasy is, let's face it, kind of known for. In the context of the games I've played in this series, having a Monty Python type flying building is really nothing unusual, considering all the ships, blimps, birds, and even perhaps a dragon or two, I've seen over the years.

Cid sends the party to look around and see if everybody's OK. No serious injuries, but there's a lot of confusion. A lot of environmental damage, too, considering the dust storm this thing caused when it took off. Oh, and there's a lot of wrecked nerves because the Galbadian missiles did come and almost hit the place. Between what Selphie and gang did and the giant dust cloud, there was surprisingly little damage from that. But otherwise, everything's cool.

Back up on the command deck, Cid needs the party to come back to help him get the newly-released building, which kind of looks like Farpoint Station from the series premier of Star Trek: The Next Generation now, under control. Once again, it falls to Squall to figure this shit out because apparently everybody else is just too damn dumb to push buttons and hope for the best.

Just for a moment, I think I understand my parents a little better as a result of having seen this part of the game again. See, my whole life, my folks have been the sorts to save the instruction manuals for every appliance they ever bought, be it a blender or a new car. In fact, in the case of the cars, they'd read the things cover to cover, just so they knew what all these fancy new vehicles do these days. For the longest time, that seemed a little bit silly to me, but for just a moment here, I think I understand why that is now. I mean, really, there's not so much a shred of information on what's even in this building or whatever the Garden used to be? Nothing that says how the controls are supposed to work when they are working? Not even a tiny little instruction manual in Cid's desk or something?

So, when Squall and party get back to the command deck, it's up to Squall to keep the Garden from hitting the town of Balam. He pulls it off, somehow, and manages to set the thing down in the harbor just past the town without sinking it as well. Not long after, we find Squall trying to take it easy in his quarters, thinking about how bored he is now that things have calmed down for a bit. He's also worried about Selphie and her team, though he'll not admit it for awhile.

Eventually, he does fall asleep, only to be woken up some time later by Rinoa, who wants a tour of the Garden. But since this has already gone on for awhile, we'll get to that next time, when I mess up another Star Trek movie title, in Balam Garden III: The Wrath of NORG. Until then, stay safe, have fun, keep gaming, and DFTBA!

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