…the single best part of the storyline is purely visual and doesn’t involve any dialogue or text whatsoever. The game’s ending consists of a 15-minute computer-animated sequence that pushes its melodrama to operatic heights and blends it with an avant-garde surrealism — and it works beautifully. Final Fantasy VIII sets up this conclusion by explaining that its protagonists must travel to a dimension outside of space and time in order to confront the game’s true villain, and that the only way to return to the real world afterwards is to focus on a reassuring place from one’s memories.
For Squall [the game’s protagonist] this proves incredibly difficult. He wants to imagine a vast field of flowers where he promised Rinoa they would meet after the final battle, but he finds it impossible to remember what she looks like. He recalls scenes from earlier in the game, but every time her face appears blurry and indistinct. As Squall becomes increasingly desperate to remember the woman he loves, the montage of prior scenes begins moving faster and faster, the clips rushing by at a frantic pace. He finally thinks back to a moment in which Rinoa almost died, and for the first time her face is completely visible. Squall’s body fades away into the light.
What’s remarkable about this sequence is that it doesn’t bother to explain exactly what’s going on. Gamers will hopefully understand that this rapid-fire montage represents Squall’s fevered imagination and that the shock of almost losing Rinoa causes him to snap out of his delirium, but the game doesn’t spell this out in any way. If a mainstream Hollywood movie trusted its audience to handle a wordless, four-and-half minute segment like this, it would have been hailed as an extraordinary achievement. But since Final Fantasy VIII was merely a video game, nobody noticed.
I’m not so sure that Final Fantasy VIII is the franchise’s “red-headed stepchild,” as Rodgers puts it. According to the game’s Wikipedia page, it received positive reviews from many of the major gaming publications (it currently has a Metacritic score of 90), was voted as the 22nd best game of all time by Famitsu (one of the world’s most influential and esteemed gaming magazines), and is still the fastest-selling game in the Final Fantasy franchise, among other things. But I guess it’s all in how you interpret the numbers.
That being said, I do agree that it’s a wonderful game, and that it contains some great moments. I have very fond memories of playing it and while it doesn’t have an iconic moment like Final Fantasy VII’s death of Aeris, the final scene he links to is pretty great — especially after 50 hours of gameplay.