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25 December 2008 @ 05:31 am
Squall Isn't Emo! (And Other FF8 Characterization Issues)

Squaresoft created a game that presented so many often overlooked opportunities with Final Fantasy VIII. Major plot holes that beg to be filled aside, we have characters with just enough definition to be unique and more than enough room to be expanded on that are often lumped into horrifying generalizations of what fan fiction authors think they ought to be.

Let's take a look at them individually.

Squall is not emo, but he does have more than enough traumatic experience under his belt to be the way he is. Without assuming that Raine and Laguna are his parents and Ellone is his half sister, we have the solid fact that he was an orphan. That alone is enough to scar a child. Considering that the familial assumptions are correct, it gets even worse. Presume for a moment that Raine died in childbirth, leaving him motherless, and that Laguna left for any number of reasons, leaving him fatherless. The only family he had left was Ellone, who was later torn away from him while he was still at a fairly impressionable age. He has every right to have a sense of abandonment. It's logical for him to distance himself from people. In his teenage years, he was thrust into a position of power and leadership that he didn't want and wasn't ready for. It's understandable for him to be insecure and to have a lot on his mind. However, he is very strong willed and takes on the responsibility. He's far from the whiny, suicidal angst-bot that authors tend to portray him as.

Quistis is not a perfectionist, an obsessive scorned lover, or an "Ice Queen." She, too, was an orphan, but like the other characters, we aren't given much reason as to why. When she entered Garden, she was a bit of an over achiever. She was a SeeD by 15 and an Instructor by 17. No one is quite ready for what she undertook at these ages, and while it may be admirable, it's quite logical that she kind of cracked under pressure. She strives for a personal level of excellence, but she is far from perfect and shows a tendency to behave like many typical teenage girls. In the first bit of the game, she loses her composure as an Instructor by mocking Squall's behavior. When she finds that her license is being taken away, she makes a personal request under the guise of an order from a superior for Squall to listen to her problems. Obviously, she's like most humans who just need someone to talk to. She defies orders as a SeeD on a very important job to personally apologize to Rinoa, who she felt she mistreated. When she later confesses her past feelings for Squall, she is able to rationalize it with her sister-like mentality towards him. She is not the stoic and internally obsessive girl that authors make her out to be.

Selphie is not a hyperactive girl that needs to put down the coffee. She is a naturally perky girl who shows a lot of enthusiasm for the tasks she is presented. While she's mission oriented most of the time, traits of a teenage girl show through for her very strongly. She hasn't quite reached the level of maturity as some of the other characters, but in the same breath, her training at Trabia was pretty low key compared to what the others have gone through at Balamb. Contrary to popular fandom belief, she does not snort pixie sticks.

Zell is not the hyperactive boy who needs to lay off the energy drinks. Like Selphie, he too tends to be energetic and is very enthusiastic about the jobs he is given. His personality is boisterous and over the top, much like a typical teenage boy. It's understandable why he doesn't share the same bleak outlook on things like some of the characters do - he was the only child from the orphanage who was adopted, and also the only known character to commute from the town of Balamb to the Garden. He's passionate and tends to make rash decisions, but really, fandom, he does have emotions, too.

Rinoa is not a clingy, spoiled brat who jumps to conclusions and makes decisions on a whim. Her mother died when she was young, leaving her with her father and presumably not much else in the way of a parental figure. Her father, General Caraway, held a position of power in the Galbadian army, and it can be inferred that she spent much of her life sheltered in their mansion. As her way of declaring her independence, she leaves and joins a resistance faction in the town of Timber, which has long been occupied by Galbadian forces. When you encounter her in the game, it's obvious she has quite a passion for what she's doing, no matter how small it may be. However, I find it hard to believe she's always been as emotionally invested in her faction. It may have developed over time, but I believe it was the only way she could rebel against her father and establish that she is capable of making her own decisions. When she teams up with Squall, she takes up a common female mentality of, "I can fix him!" and "I just want to fit in." She tries her hardest to stay on par with those who've had far more tactical and combat training than she has, and she does spend most of the game trying to get Squall to be open and to trust the people he's working with. Later she does genuinely fall for him, but she is far from obsessive.

Irvine is not a complete womanizing pervert or a coward. He does have quite the interest in the girl types, but then again, what adolescent male doesn't? Eventually, his emotions are focused on Selphie. He is the only one who really remembers being in the orphanage, and he remembers having very fond feelings for her. He also remembers Matron before she became the Sorceress Edea, and still carries an attachment to the closest thing he ever had to a mother, and really, who wants to shoot their mom? Being a human with feelings and a teenage boy with hormones does not make him a chicken or a rapist.

Seifer is not a sadistic bastard with no feelings. He was a misguided youth who never quite had the support he really needed. He made up for this like some boys do by putting up an egotistical front and an "I don't need anyone" attitude. A part of him was probably still a little boy who just needed a hug, but he took the next best thing as a brainwashed servant of a Sorceress. He can't really be blamed for the things he did, especially not since he was more or less a puppet for someone much stronger than he was. While he may have a desire to be different, his pride will always stand in the way of him being the fan fiction portrayed boy with a broken ego and complete willingness to return to Garden under all of their conditions.

Instead of taking their time to get to know these characters and look at what makes them who they are, authors are slapping stereotypes on them left and right. They have so much opportunity to add depth to these characters and give them some incredible stories, but instead the choose to overlook it all in favor of convenient cliches to make mediocre stories.

Please, fandom, do some research.

(I know this community hasn't seen some action in over a year, but it's such a neat idea and I'd like to see it come back! Also, I apologize for any run on sentences or other such mistakes. I'm running on no sleep, nicotine, and tons of caffeine.)
Lassarinalassarina on December 26th, 2008 06:35 pm (UTC)
Word, word, word. Have an internet.
[♥]dancingspiral on December 27th, 2008 02:04 am (UTC)
*takes the internet proudly*
Sarah: Rinoaandromeda3116 on December 26th, 2008 07:34 pm (UTC)
I think, of all of them, the fanfic portrayal of Seifer annoys me the most. Seifer is willing to cling to his dreams to the absolute end, so why would he just crawl back to Garden with his tail between his legs? I like the idea of him returning - and I can see him accepting a few conditions, simply because he's not stupid - but he'd be far from docile while there.

Also, Selphie, see also, Rikku. Both of them turn off the energy at certain points and show that they are not happy and hyper 100% of the time. I think the clearest indication of Selphie's character is when you return to Trabia and she's crestfallen, but tries desperately to keep up the optimistic facade.

...So, yeah. Much hugs and love for writing this.
[♥]dancingspiral on December 27th, 2008 02:05 am (UTC)
Thank you. :3
Ms Starlightstarlight83 on December 26th, 2008 08:56 pm (UTC)
Here via ff_press.

I agree with pretty much everything you've said, and I've been working on a similar (longer) post about Quistis and Seifer in particular. I think the problem is that most people haven't actually played the game in several years. So they pull most of their characterization from other bits of fan fiction they've read recently -- and that allows for generalizations about the characters to be magnified across stories. And since readers probably haven't played the game in eons either, they'll sometimes accuse people who don't honor their favorite stereotypes of writing someone out of character.

Irvine's drawl, for instance. He talks like a valley girl in the game. But since he's got a cowboy hat on, and everyone clearly remembers that, he suddenly talks like he's from deep Texas in a lot of fics.
[♥]dancingspiral on December 27th, 2008 02:04 am (UTC)
I got submitted to ff_press? x__x

I'd be very interested to read your piece on Seifer and Quistis. It's a pairing that, theoretically, I adore. When it's put into action? Not so much.
Ms Starlightstarlight83 on December 27th, 2008 02:14 am (UTC)
Seifer/Quistis is totally my OTP. And I've been writing it forever, so I'm definitely guilty of all the various Seifer/Quistis characterization sins.

But it seems like everything I read anymore has the same old "Ice Queen" Quistis who is a hyper-competent man eater, and a just slightly rough around the edges but totally soft and squishy on the inside Seifer who really has been in love with Quistis since they were four. And it's getting boring. :\

Helluin: luluauronlu on December 27th, 2008 06:53 am (UTC)
This probably explains why I don't read as much FFVIII fanfic as one would expect from someone who first came to the FF series through 8 and for years considered it my favorite.

I was a little shocked by all the stereotypes when I first started browsing the fanfic.

I used to joke about the game as the Legion of Moody Teenagers, but that was mainly because I was amused/horrified at Squaresoft for putting the FATE OF THE WORLD on the shoulders of kids who are of an age when most of us were angsting about teen crushes, biochem grades and Mom buying us ugly clothes! I hadn't yet gotten used to the young ages of video game characters at the time.

They handle the mess the adults throw at them (thanks Matron, Cid) with a lot more maturity than most of us would've, I'd warrant.

Anyway, yeah, good analysis. Though I'd say Irvine makes his move on Selphie the moment he finds her again. Hormonal teen, but he seems genuine despite the silly playacting (and in a way seems to be using the goofing around to hide it).
ex_karasu511 on December 27th, 2008 10:08 am (UTC)
Thanks for that! I have had a similar thought brewing in my head for awhile, and this definitely makes me feel a sense of relief that others do realize this, even if this is one of the most hated on games in the FF fandom...

Also, an additional, 'hear hear!' to Squall's section, who yeah, presumably came to the orphanage with Ellone after Raine died, and probably was one of the first of the Orphanage Gang there. Given that Ellone probably had her own baggage about Raine's death, she would probably want to take extra care of Raine's child, and when she's taken with no explanation (that we know of, though maybe there was, and Squall just forgot)... It would definitely be shocking to him, since it seems like he was a pretty shy child, being an orphan aside. The one person who he felt really belonged to him, just vanished - poof.

Not just that, but after all that, he's taken away (along with Seifer - the 'left over, nobody wants' problem children) to be trained as mercenaries from like five years of age! Which means their last means of emotional support (Matron) is taken away, too. Perhaps if Matron had continued raising the two of them at the Orphange, they might have developed differently. But yeah, even she's cut out of their lives by the time most kids would be getting ready for kindergarten. It's very unlikely that anyone would have, from that time on, coddled them at all or treated them with a maternal manner (maybe Dr. Kadowaki, but how long was she on staff? - unknown~~~). I imagine Quistis, too, is coming a lot from that whole 'not wanted, so now you learn to DO BATTLE!' mentality, since she was returned at around 8, was it?

So yeah, he does tend to be angsty on and off (which admittedly is part of the appeal to me, but you know, that aside!), but he does a pretty good job of taking care of everyone else despite his anxieties and also making terrifying life or death decisions for others, too. I always feel sad, since he is often very much disliked and it's like people who dislike him just don't care about any of that, so it seems pointless to even point it out. I honestly think there is a very complex side to him that maybe the script doesn't do as good of a job of pushing out there as it could have, and that this side does make him as a person make a lot of sense. There are definitely hints of it, even if it isn't fully explored in game. But then, Square was trying to make an adventure game, not a psychological drama about an orphan, so there you go. xD;;

And even his mopiness and tendency to withdraw was just normal teen angst... Well, in game, he is only 17. Hating teenagers for being teenagers is kind of ridiculous, I find, which is what I find pretty often to be people's issue with Rinoa (oh noes, a 17 year old girl who acts like a 17 year old! D:).

Anyway, great essay! Thanks for posting it. ;D
malu_chan on December 30th, 2008 02:56 pm (UTC)
Squall and Rinoa
Hi, this is my first post. I've watched this community for a LOONG time and finally decided to join and post. On to the topic at hand, I do understand that most of FF8 characters' conduct and characteristics are defined by their childhood traumas and age. Nevertheless, I've had problems with Rinoa and Squall (not as a couple). I was a teenager when I first played the game. Back then I didn't like Squall's emo-ish personality and absolutely HATED Rinoa's guts. I thought Squall was selfish and actually mean to the people who tried time and time again to make him feel better. My initial bad response to Rinoa, I think, was guttural. As a girl gamer I found her characterization bordering on insulting. To me she wasn't bubbly, she was bordering neurotic. Selphie was bubbly, Rinoa was plain weird. The thing that threw me off was the way she moved, it was a little... bizarre. She moved like a puppet or a clown. Most of the time when she was talking to Squall, she was trying to use humor to cheer him up, but somehow it looked like she was making fun of him for sulking. I realize now I was too harsh with Squall and Rinoa. I recently played the game again and Squall didn't get on my nerves. He was still emo, but it was clearly a front and while he wasn't nice to other most of the game, I could appreciate his predicament more. As an adult now I realize just how horrible his situation was. When I played the game again I realized just how unfair it was to put him in a leadership position in a military setting. A teenager shouldn't have to make life-or-death decisions, specially where other people will be affected. It was UNFAIR of Cid (and later on, Medea) to put Squall in charge of Balamb Garden. Breeding children up as soldiers is deplorable. They could have recruited them for active duty when they were older. With the amount of stress Squall was under, I'm surprised he didn't go completely crazy and crashed the Garden against a mountain. Now, on to Rinoa... I still don't like her much. But my reasons for not liking her changed. Rinoa was basically having a temper tantrum against her father when she joined the Timber revolution. I think this is reprehensible, on so many ways... These people where fighting for independence and here she is meddling just because she has daddy issues. This is too selfish for words. They could die while she's playing revel army. I'll give it to her that she sobered up when she saw how serious Seeds were and what fighting was really like. She started caring for a cause and actually made a conscious decision to risk her life to fight against Medea. She matured a lot throughout the game. I think Squaresoft was trying to make her cute, but it still needed some work. Dagger from FF9 was cute and less annoying (except when her emotional problems made her almost unplayable during some portions of the game). I think they got it right with Yuna. All in all the only consistent problem with FF8 is the gaping plot holes that were patched up rather badly. What are the probabilities that all those orphans managed to find each other again without memories of each other (except Irvine) and fight against their matron, of all people? Almost all of the important people they meet on their journey are connected in one way or the other with Squall or Laguna's past. It's a small world after all...
vita_chanvita_chan on December 30th, 2008 05:49 pm (UTC)
Hello all! I've also just joined this community.

But going on topic... I think the reason these stereotypes are so strongly held true is because they are mostly Squall's first impressions of the characters. They are cemented into your brain by his continuous inner dialogue.

On the Squall!Crybaby and Rinoa!brat debate I find that it's a problem of characterization and timeline. At the beginning of the game most characters are immature. Rinoa IS a brat, she has a reason to be one, but that does not take away the fact that she does act like one at certain points. Squall is repressed, whiny and full of angst. This goes on through the first half of the game. They DO outgrow some of this throughout the game and, most importantly, we get character exposition that fills in the blanks and help us get away from those first impressions/stereotypes. But if one is true to the timeline, one MUST accept that these characteristics are a big part of both their personalities at that particular time.

Do I think that Squall would go all angst/emo, all the time, after the end of FFVIII? No, he has mostly outgrown that situation. Would he still have *some* angst/emo moments? Most likely he would resort to angst more quickly than other characters (like Zell).

It's sad that some fanfiction writers portray him as a 24/7 suicide in progress, especially in fics that occur AFTER FFVIII. He has grown up a lot and he's a much better person and leader at the end of his ordeal.

With Rinoa it's the same thing, she was immature and she DID make brash decisions. She also did go through many things that have changed her and I don't think she would be that prone to commit the same mistakes after the events in FFVIII. Would that mean she will never be brash again? No, but I think she knows that some decisions can never be taken brashly. In fact, I don't think that her brashness is that bad; it's how she taught Squall to enjoy life. I think she was good for Squall and that she did outgrow most of her immaturity by the end of the game.

I do think that fanfic authors unnecessarily hang on to these stereotypes, but I also accept that those characteristics were/are (depending) part of the character's personality. They were justified in acting that way because of circumstance and age and I don't think that they most likely act that way after FFVIII. But that doesn't take away the fact that they DID act that way before.

To me, I guess it's an issue of the timeline and setting of a fic. Sadly, most fanfic writers have not gotten past Squall's first impression of the characters in that first disc. It's even sadder, because to me, FFVIII is a coming of age/finding yourself story and these fics completely miss that point.