I got to the second Laguna flashback in Final Fantasy VIII. Er… that is to say, second Laguna time-travel-spirit-dream. This time we join Laguna, Kiros, and Ward as they stumble upon the Lunatic Pandora. What’s the Lunatic Pandora? Well, as VIII’s information section describes it:
“An enclosure for Crystal Pillar made by Esthar. 3 miles tall and 1.5 miles wide, the enormous enclosure boasts a high-tech facility. It floats by causing a reaction with the Crystal Pillar. A stone from the moon is sealed inside. It was probably built to cause the Lunar Cry through artificial means.“
The Lunar Cry is the phenomenon where thousands of monsters fall to earth from the moon. The last time it happened it destroyed an entire civilization and now bumbling ol’ Laguna has stumbled upon the trigger for it. How?
What Laguna and Co. have discovered is a giant crystal column (laying on its side) and super technologically advanced country Esthar’s construction of a mobil platform for it. Not that as players we’re told any of this. All we know is that the trio have found a weird metal construction with an icy blue crystal center. To even know that the group is on a different continent from the last time we saw them we have to rely on the location information in the main menu (I actually like that a lot of details about the world and its history are hidden around the edges of the game and not thrust into the main narrative).
What is plain is the tons of detail that Square packed into this game. The game is mostly played on pre-rendered static backgrounds with polygonal characters on top of them. Only on the world map and during battles is everything 3D. In Final Fantasy VII, the first game in the series to use this technique, there were maybe a handful of animated backgrounds. In VIII there’s maybe a handful that aren’t.
In VII there was usually only one battle environment for any given area. In VIII there’s often four or five. Sometimes single backgrounds get their own unique battle arenas. This second Laguna section isn’t very long. Let’s see how many battle arenas there are.
The sequence starts with Laguna and friends on a forest path overlooking the Pandora. There’s an arena for this scene, complete with Pandora in the background. There’s a path that runs out of the Pandora, through the jungle, and back in later but I couldn’t get a battle to trigger on it. I have to assume that the forest path arena only exists for the first screen.
The Pandora proper has a shell of mechanical piping and catwalks that surrounds the crystal pillar. These screens have their own battle arena. Inside the crystal your party has to navigate through bluish-green tunnels and these too have a unique battle background. This would be more than enough to create the illusion of the space inside the game but Square went beyond what was required.
There’s a couple of places inside where the green hues of the crystal transition into rose. These screen, of course, have their own battle scenes. What’s more, there’s one screen of no particular importance where the green walls turn amber at the top. And even this, this one background of an otherwise unimportant passage, has it’s own battle area. It boggles the mind. Remember, each area represents hours of design, modeling, coding, and implementation. Never mind the actual data space they take up on the disks. It’s insane! And every area of Final Fantasy VIII has the same attention to detail.
Square makes boneheaded mistakes a lot of the time but you can’t knock them for being dedicated to their craft.