A Breakdown of the Final Fantasy VIII Opening Scene
Great Moments in Gaming is a column wherein we look back at some of the great gaming moments that have made a significant impact on our view of this medium and how we have come to understand it. Today, we’re looking back at the epic opening cinematic of Final Fantasy VIII.
Ever since I was little I had heard tell about the future of gaming. Industry pundits and dreamy developers alike expounded on the potential of the medium for cinematic storytelling and immersive, emotional experiences. As I played the days away on the likes of Super Metroid, Donkey Kong Country, and A Link to the Past, I felt plenty of emotion, but rarely did I feel the goosebumps rising on my arms the way I did when I was watching a truly great film.
Then, on one autumn afternoon, in grade 9, I finally saw the fruit of all these years of hopeful speculation in the industry. It was a game called Final Fantasy VIII. At this point in my pimply, voice-changing, pubescent development I was still too pig-headed to give RPGs a fair shake. “Who wants to give orders to characters instead of swinging the sword themselves?” I wondered, like the ignorant little shit I was. Then my friend Kurtis put in Final Fantasy VIII and hit the X button to start a New Game.
As waves crashed against a distant beach in some far-off land, “Liberi Fatali” began its ominous Latin chanting. Immediately, all three of us in the room were transfixed. As the camera panned across the ocean, the intensity of the chanting increased and the singers were joined by a soaring orchestral score. “Filthos! Lusec! Wecos! Vinosec!” When reading the lyrics for this song they don’t generally put an exclamation point behind the words like that but that’s how they sounded to everyone sitting around my friend’s CRT TV in the basement that day.
The scene continued to evolve, showing words written on the screen between two lovers, a promise, no, an oath, that if they were ever lost they would find each other in some distant meadow. A glaring warrior with a scar across his brow, a wistful girl with flowers swirling around her, an evil sorceress glowering down from her throne. The images cut back and forth, suggesting many things but never giving us the full picture.
Finally, the camera focused on something concrete and we knew what we were seeing for the first time. Two rivals battled it out on a rocky outcropping, swinging their swords at each other with all of the passion of battle. Still, as their battle continued, more ominous forebodings entered the fray. We saw the girl from earlier, swaying behind the sorceress, and the blonde figure from the battle smiling grimly, his head haloed by smoldering flames.
Finally, the music rose in a crescendo of dread, as the blonde man raised his sword in slow motion, having knocked his rival to his knees. The sword came down, and a splash of blood dotted the battleground beneath them. I thought he was dead. As the scene showed him again, however, he regained his composure, coming back to his feet, and, with blood streaming down the fresh slash across his face, he struck back at his enemy with a swing of his sword and a flash of light, marking his face in the same way.
The opening ended with more flashes of scenes to come: a ballroom dance, characters we hadn’t seen yet, events we were unfamiliar with, and finally, the music rose one final time, and we saw the hero of this tale reaching out over a setting sun backdrop to embrace the girl from the field, the scene cutting right before they could reach one another. Their faces looked troubled.
I was familiar with Final Fantasy before this but never had I realized what my foolish, knee-jerk judgment of the RPG genre was keeping me from experiencing. As the words “Final Fantasy VIII” shone luminescent from the black of the screen, it became apparent to me that what I had just watched was one of the most remarkable, impressive and intense scenes I had ever witnessed.
By the following summer, I would have a PlayStation and a copy of Final Fantasy VIII of my own. As I played through the game over my final lazy, jobless summer, it left the kind of effect on me that few games (or pieces of art from any medium, really) ever would. It was a one of a kind game, and it remains not just my favorite of the series to this day but also my favorite RPG of all time.
I can still remember sitting in that basement, all these years later, and the moment I finally believed the hype from my copies of EGM, Gamepro and Nintendo Power. Games could tell cinematic stories, and the imagination and passion that fuelled the developers of games like Final Fantasy VIII would be the ones to make good on the future promises I was reading on those pages.
I’m sure most gamers of my age have a moment like that where the promise of cinematic storytelling in video games suddenly emerged from the pipe dream it had lived in up until that moment, emerging fully formed as figures clashed across a screen. For me, though, that moment was in the fall of 1999, and the game was Final Fantasy VIII.