Welcome! "Squall's Dead" discusses the possibility of Final Fantasy VIII's storyline covertly revolving around the death of its main character early on, a theory which - so far - appears to be undiscussed on the internets. We will attempt to explain the basis of the theory, and argue why it may be true. At the end of the article we concede that there is no real "proof", merely suggestions and hints. However, we hope this analysis will add meaning to the game for all players - perhaps refreshing its value over a decade since the game's release - and inspire a discussion as it did between us.
With that said, let's get on with it!
At the end of disc one, Squall and Friends face Edea on a parade float in Deling City. After the fight, when Edea seems defeated, she conjures an enormous ice shard and propels it through Squall’s chest. Squall stumbles back and falls off the platform. He sees Rinoa above, reaching to him as he falls. Squall closes his eyes and dies. The entire remaining game time, from the beginning of disc two to the second half of the ending movie, is a dream.
Uh huh. A dream, a fantasy, a vision, or whatever you want to call it. The “dream” is basically an extension of the “your life flashes before your eyes” concept. The entire dream takes only a matter of seconds, but for Squall is passes in real time. For Squall, it’s about the endless possibilities he could have seen realized. Squall explores the questions that were raised on the first disc but he was not able to answer in his lifetime. These questions include, but are not limited to:
Who is the Sorceress Edea? What are her goals and motivation? Where do her powers come from? Why was Seifer in the parade with Edea when he was reported executed? Who was the girl (Ellone) that Squall and Quistis saw in the Garden training center? Who is Laguna and why did Squall, Selphie, and Zell all have the same dream about him? And, most importantly, who is Squall? Who were his parents? Why did they leave him at the orphanage? Where does he come from, and what would he have done with his life had he not died?
Today’s understanding of the events of Final Fantasy VIII comprise of a mixed bag. Most people focus on who Ultimecia is, what her motives are, and what happens after her defeat. This has led to the misinterpretation of the evidence and symbolism pointing towards Squall’s death. Some evidence that formerly appeared to be vague and inconclusive now represent clear allusions and references to the subtlety of Final Fantasy VIII’s “obscured” meaning.
In fact, the popular opinion of Final Fantasy VIII falls exactly in line with the nature of the elements of the plot that are consistent within the dream theory, and those that are not. For instance, one of the biggest criticisms of the game is that the “orphanage plot twist” appears to be completely random and come out of nowhere. It appears to be too convenient, for how could all the main characters have possibly grown up together in the same orphanage? The brilliance of the dream theory is that it addresses concerns like these and offers a logical explanation.
You've become just a memory
In the latter half of disc one, two conversations take place concerning Seifer’s fate and if he will be executed for attacking the president of Galbadia. During these sections of dialogue, Squall muses to himself on the existential qualities of death.
“Will they talk about me this way if I die too? Squall was this and that. Using the past tense, saying whatever they want? So this is what death is all about…” In this manner Squall considers his own death and what little difference it will make for the world. This serves as foreboding, an ominous suggestion to the viewer that ill times are ahead.
Also note this excerpt from the first conversation concerning Seifer’s possible execution:
‘(Think what you want...Reality isn't so kind. Everything doesn't work out the way you want it to. That's why...) "As long as you don't get your hopes up, you can take anything... You feel less pain. Anyway, whatever wish you have is none of my business."’
Here Squall states the obvious: Shit happens. People die, and there’s nothing you can do about it. That’s just the way the world is.
“Everything doesn’t work out the way you want it to.” Not only is this foreshadowing, but it’s also contrary to what some consider a central theme to Final Fantasy VIII’s story: fate. (We’ll come back to this point later.)
My wound? …No wound…?
The attempted assassination of Edea by SeeD at Deling City at the end of Disc 1 is where everything starts (and ends). Squall engages Edea and Seifer in battle on the parade float. After the battle ends, Edea casts a spell on him.
Here's the video:
After the encounter between Squall and Edea, Squall wakes up in a cell in the Galbadian desert prison. His first dialogue is:
‘(...Where am I? I...challenged Edea... My wound...? No wound...? How...? The Galbadian soldiers... ...We were surrounded. He was there... Seifer, leering down at me.) "Damn you, Seifer!"’
Apparently Squall’s healthy and good-to-go. It is never again referenced directly in the entire game, nor is it ever explained what happened to his wound or how he survived. And remember, a piece of ice half as long as Squall himself went through his chest and came out the other side. This is no mere scratch that is so carelessly tossed aside. Most players seem to assume that Edea healed Squall to full health for the purpose of interrogation, but why would she? Seifer knows that Squall is no great captain from Balamb Garden. He’s no more privy to top secret information than are the other three. If Edea wanted to know more about SeeD, she should be interrogating Quistis, who’s been a SeeD for three years and who has been teaching SeeDs for one year. Squall has been a SeeD for all of two weeks. Why go through all the effort of killing him just to bring him to full health when he’s obviously a threat to her?
As some of you may have noticed, the plot takes a few unanticipated turns after the end of disc one. At first the transition is rather subtle. When plot twists are introduced, they are fully explained and are not in conflict with existing plot information. In fact, the more you learn about this world, the more everything seems to make perfect sense. Everything fits together in an elaborate but perfectly designed puzzle. Everything connects and everything is related. And yet it still seems absolutely ridiculous.
The story takes on a dream-like quality that centers itself on Squall and everything Squall has ever wanted. The dream goes on to explain everything Squall wanted to know, but it also treads through the realm of egoist fantasy. It spins off into a world of impossible where monsters come from the moon and Squall, merely a newly recruited cadet, goes on to save our world as we know it from an evil sorceress from the future. And he gets the girl. Let’s look at some specific examples.
As soon as I saw those red lion Pokémons running around on the screen, I knew there was something strange happening.
The first disc had a fairly high level of realism despite the fantasy and low sci-fi topics present. The characters were all human, and outside of “monsters” there were no unearthly creatures to be seen. Rinoa had a dog that attacks for her at times, as earthly dogs are known to do. But there weren’t any fluffy feline creatures running around yelling “Laguna! Laguna!”
Of course, Moombas are explained within the context of the game. In the Shumi Village you can learn who the Moombas are, who they evolve from, and so on and so forth. The game takes the plot developments of the dream very seriously and treats them all as truth, which makes the dream theory especially difficult to argue. Sure, all this stuff seems weird, but how do we know that it’s all intended to be a dream? Maybe the creators just thought it’d be cool to have talking cats around! And who knows, maybe they did. But I think it’s more than convenient that the more fantastical elements, such as talking lions, do not appear in the game until after the moment where Squall may have died.
It should also be noted that Moombas, these benevolent creatures that try to help Squall and his friends escape despite their limited verbal communication, are literally lions. And lions, of course, are of particular importance to Squall whose symbol is a lion named Griever. The moombas and the Griever’s appearance in the final battle with Ultimecia can therefore be explained as manifestations of Squall’s mind.
Okay, we already covered the Moombas and the Shumi, but I still wanted to say:
Wtf?! The Master of Garden is a giant yellow sloth alien creature? You gotta be kidding me!!
I dunno about you guys, but this is typical dream material in my opinion. Of course, NORG and his kind are fully explained in the game if you take the time to seek the information they present, but there are no hints presented in the story to suggest this sort of twist was coming. When walking around the Garden in the beginning of the game, you often see the cult-looking guys in red robes wandering about and sometimes conversing with you briefly. I more than once thought they looked a bit creepy though, and I can easily imagine that Squall would have thought the same and integrated their possible backstory into his dream.
Not only is there no evidence leading up to this discovery, after Squall and Friends kill NORG, that’s it. Nothing happens. Squall speaks to Cid, but he doesn’t even talk about it. I expected him at least to say, “Oh, by the way Cid, I just killed that big slimy dude that was hanging around in the basement yelling orders and acting all powerful and stuff. Hope that’s no prob’.” There’s no retaliation, no consequences, nothing. The story goes on as if NORG had never come into it.
Also in the NORG section, another little twist comes to the surface. Cid and Edea are married! It’s another typical twist; the only important older male character and the only important older female character are married and have a backstory that goes back decades. And, like NORG, it comes completely out of left-field. The twist does not conflict with existing story information, yet it seems so out-of-place and unrealistic.
I’m not even going to bother discussing the floating Garden. You guys get the point.
Perhaps it’s fate.
And we’re back to the fate question. What I wanted to point out on the subject of fate and destiny and all that hullabaloo is simply this: the subject of fate does not come up until after the end of disc one. The word “fate” comes up only once on the first disc. When Squall and Friends get the last train for Deling City moments before it disembarks, Irvine comments on the luck by saying, "Hmm... Perhaps it's fate?" After the first disc of the game, however, fate becomes a frequent subject of conversation. It’s SeeD’s destiny to defeat the Sorceress; it’s Squall’s fate to lead Garden; Squall’s destined to face Seifer, etc.
Fate becomes such a prevalent topic that many players come away feeling that fate was one of the most important elements of the Final Fantasy VIII story and the answer to all questions. Fate is the reason why this lowly cadet instantaneously becomes the leader of Garden. Fate is the reason why everyone in your party apparently knew each other as children. Fate is the reason why everything falls into place like a perfect fantasy.
Just stay close to me.
Speaking of a perfect fantasy, the romantic storyline of Final Fantasy VIII is just that. The romantic plotline, which many fans consider to the most successful element of the game, is completely fabricated for Squall’s personal satisfaction. Not only does Rinoa show little appreciation for Squall through disc one, but there are many allusions to her on-going relationship with Seifer. Their relationship appears to have been on a sort of hiatus while Seifer was studying at the Balamb Garden, but their affection and romantic connection is still in place when this story occurs.
In the ballroom scene, Rinoa flirts with Squall casually, but appears to take no actual interest in him as an individual. She tells him honestly, as she drags him out to dance, that she’s waiting for someone else.
Squall: “...I can't dance.”
Rinoa: “You'll be fine. Come on. I'm looking for someone. I can't be on the dance floor alone.”
After a quick dance and a swoon from the female fans, Rinoa wordlessly brushes him off and leaves to find Seifer. Her abruptness suggests that her real interest lies elsewhere. The next time Squall sees Rinoa, it’s in Timber. Rinoa is overjoyed to see him, but only because he’s a member of SeeD.
Rinoa: "Hey... You're...! You know, from the party... So...does that mean... You're a SeeD!?"
Squall: "I'm Squall, the squad leader. There's two others with me."
Rinoa: "YEEESSSS! SeeD is here!"
Here we also learn that Rinoa knows Seifer, from the party and from before. Her demeanor suggests a fondness for him that she does not openly let on.
Squall: "Oh... So you were looking for the headmaster at the party?"
Rinoa: "You know Seifer?"
Rinoa: "Well, he's the one who introduced me to Cid. Cid is such a nice man. I really didn't think SeeD would come out to help a measly little group like us. But after explaining our situation to him, Cid gave the go ahead right away! Now that you guys are here, we'll be able to carry out all kinds of plans!"
Squall: "I'm goin' back to the others."
Rinoa: "Ok, let's go! Umm, Squall. Is 'he' here?"
Squall: "...... No, he's not a SeeD."
After the events at Timber, when the party discusses Seifer’s execution, Rinoa speaks more openly on her relationship with Seifer.
Rinoa: "I...really liked him. He was always full of confidence, smart... Just by talking to him, I felt like I could take on the world."
Selphie: "Your boyfriend?"
Rinoa: "I don't really know. I... I think it was love. I wonder how he felt...?"
Selphie: "Do you still like him?"
Rinoa: "If I didn't, I wouldn't be talking about it. It was last summer... I was 16. Lots of fond memories..."
Firstly, Rinoa is obviously quite taken with Seifer, and though she doesn’t classify herself as his girlfriend, she admits she thinks it may be love. This is not a good beginning to a love story for Squall and Rinoa. Secondly, Rinoa appears to fully dislike Squall’s cold and introverted personality. She calls him mean, callous, insensitive, and chastises him for not communicating his thoughts to her and the others in the party.
Rinoa does not show Squall the least bit of affection until the end of disc one when Squall and Irvine save her from some strange iguana creatures. In this scene, she clutches Squall’s arm shamelessly in her traumatized state.
Rinoa: "I was scared..." [Rinoa clings to his arm.] "...Really scared."
Squall: "It's over now."
Rinoa: "I was scared... I was really, really scared."
Squall: "You're used to battles, aren't you?"
Rinoa: "I couldn't...I just couldn't. I couldn't fight alone..."
Squall: (...You're not ready for all this.) "Better get going." [Rinoa clings to his arm again after he bats it away.] "I haven't forgotten your order. Just stay close to me."
A few moments later, at the sniper position, Squall considers the possibility that he may have to fight Seifer as an enemy. He mentions the possibility to Rinoa, who obviously may be heavily affected by Squall trying to kill her romantic interest.
Squall: "Rinoa. Seifer's alive. He was in the parade with the sorceress."
Rinoa: "...What does it mean?"
Squall: "Who knows." (If I were to face the sorceress directly... Would I have to go through Seifer? ...That's the way it goes as a SeeD. You can't choose your enemies...) "I may end up killing Seifer."
Rinoa: "You're both...prepared, right? That's the kind of world you live in. You've had a lot of emotional training. But... Of course, I'd rather it not happen..."
Rinoa appears to accept that if Seifer is protecting the Sorceress, it is necessary to dispose of him.
I think it’s important to note that at this point in the game, at the end of disc one, Squall is aware of Rinoa’s relationship with Seifer and does not seem threatened by it. Furthermore, Squall does not want to kill Seifer. Squall and Seifer have a history of quarrels and petty competition, but Seifer is still a comrade. In the final exam in Balamb, Squall and Zell worked together with Seifer despite their differences. The only reason to kill Seifer is his apparent alignment with the Sorceress, which is never fully explained.
After disc one, the complexity of this situation becomes much simpler. The relationship Rinoa and Seifer had is never again mentioned, except by Seifer in the form of taunts during battle. Rinoa herself seems to have completely distanced herself from Seifer, and Seifer’s enemy status is never again questioned. Seifer began as a rather complex character, an enemy at times to Squall and Zell but still a friend in battle. He broke out of the Garden’s disciplinary wing to risk his life for Rinoa, who found his courage inspiring. After disc one he is a villain and his only goal appears to be serving the Sorceress. I personally expected Seifer to have been brain-washed or mind-controlled, and I spent a majority of the game waiting for Seifer to “snap out of it” and join Squall’s team, but he never does. The story just accepts that Seifer is now evil and must be killed. It’s so simple and, well, convenient.
Seifer, who was Squall’s personal tormenter and rival in school, has become a major villain to the world and all of his friends. And since Seifer is out of the way, his would-be girlfriend--Rinoa--is now single and apparently falling for Squall though she never took an interest in him before.
At the very end of the game, just as you’re beating the final boss, Ultimecia, she starts to say some strange things, statements that appear very out-of-context for a final battle.
"Reflect on your... Childhood..."
"Your sensation... Your words... Your emotions..."
"Time... It will not wait..."
"No matter... ...how hard you hold on. It escapes you..."
When I read those words, a chill ran up my spine. With every attack, you bring down Ultimecia’s hit points, and you bring Squall’s dream to a close. Squall, oblivious, fights on, and only this figment of his imagination seems aware of what is happening.
There is a short story segment here involving Squall going back in time to the orphanage and seeing Ultimecia pass on her powers to Edea in the past. Then Squall leaves in search of his “own time”, and is shown wandering in a desert place. He appears to be “lost in time” and unable to find his way back his normal time period.
Squall finds himself on a small rock island, isolated and helpless. He drops himself on the ground, exhausted. Then, upon catching a feather floating towards him, he finds himself where Rinoa is. He calls out her name, and she turns to face him. This is where the weird shit starts happening.
Rinoa turns to Squall, but her face is blurred. There’s a shot of Seifer as the movie cuts to the ballroom scene. Here we see Rinoa again, and again she turns towards the camera as she did in the ballroom scene on disc one. But she’s blurry and messed up again. The shot continues to repeat, and every time Rinoa’s face and form are blurred, and the effect seems to be getting worse each time. What is happening here?
It is my belief that as Squall’s dream is coming to a close, he is starting to lose touch with his own memories. He is trying to picture Rinoa, the object of his fantasy, but he can’t quite remember the shape of her face. He is going over that moment in the ballroom, when he first saw her, again and again in his mind, focusing closer on her face and trying to see her the way that she was.
I have seen this specific visual symbolism once before, in Eternal Sunshine on the Spotless Mind. In Eternal Sunshine, the protagonist, Joel, has his memory erased because he wants to forget his ex-girlfriend. But, in the course of the procedure, Joel realizes what he is losing and tries to hold on to his precious memories. He tries to remember the things they have already erased, just to find the characters in his memory are faceless, blurred beyond recognition.
As Squall is visualizing Rinoa in the ballroom, we start to see some quick shots interrupting the movie. The first one, as I already mentioned, was of Seifer. What is noteworthy about the shot of Seifer is that it shows him in the torchlight from the parade float where Edea tried to kill Squall with an ice spell.
Then some quick shots of Rinoa appear. These are as blurred as the Rinoa from the ballroom scene, but these images of Rinoa come from the scene where Edea makes her speech before the parade. Rinoa, who appears to be under Edea’s spell, follows the Sorceress out see the screaming crowd.
We see some shots of Rinoa floating in space, and then we’re back in the ballroom looking for Rinoa. Then there is another assortment of shots from throughout the first disc of the game. First we see the mechanical spider monster from the final exam in Balamb followed by a shot of each of the party members but Squall (Quistis, Zell, Rinoa, Selphie, and Irvine, in that order). The images of Quistis, Zell, and Selphie are from the final exam in Balamb, and the shot of Irvine is from his introductory fmv clip. This is the shot of Rinoa:
This frame was taken directly from the scene in which Squall was killed. Rinoa is turning to Squall, who has just been impaled.
We see some shots of the Balamb communications tower, the Ragnarok, and there’s a clip of Rinoa, still blurred, with her hair in the wind. A shot of Seifer pushing Rinoa into Adel goes by, then we see more of the Balamb tower, and a clip of Rinoa reaching to Squall from the parade float.
There’s an explosion, and we see the arch from Deling City under which Squall died. The camera takes us through the arch and we’re back in the ballroom for more blurred face action. There are a lot of images in this section, including Edea from the parade float, Ultimecia, Rinoa in space, the eyes from all the cast members fading into each other, and probably a lot more than that. There’s also a frame from the last moment in disc one, the image of Squall’s eye as he falls from the parade float.
At this point in the movie, and for the last few minutes as well, Squall’s life has literally been flashing before his eyes. I feel that there is a particular focus on the two main events of disc one: the final exam at Balamb and the encounter with Edea on the parade float. But of course the ballroom scene, which was of particular importance to Squall, is by far the most covered event in the first half of the ending fmv. However, as I’ve been mentioning throughout this section, there are also snippets of images from the latter half of the game, particularly Rinoa in space.
At the very end of this part of the ending movie, we see Rinoa coming towards the camera, arms open for embrace. As before, the closer she gets, the more obscured she becomes. Then we see our first shot of Squall.
This shot keeps me up at night. Seriously.
So far, the best analysis I have this for this screenshot is that Squall feels empty, that he losing his sense of self and everything that comes with it. He’s having trouble visualizing his memories, or even remembering reality from fiction. Think back to what Ultimecia said, at the end of the last battle.
"Reflect on your... Childhood… Your sensation... Your words... Your emotions... Time... It will not wait... No matter... ...how hard you hold on. It escapes you..." His life is fading from him. You can’t hold on forever.
Or they just wanted to give me nightmares.
There is one last shot of Rinoa, floating in space. The glass on her space helmet cracks and sends large pointed shards towards the camera. There is a sound, like someone being struck by a sword. We cut to Squall, eyes wide, a tear escaping him. He throws back his head and is consumed by white.
Here's a video of the ending up to this point:
And now, finally, Squall is dead. We see a white feather fall to the ground, and the screen fades to black. The last ten minutes of the FFVIII ending movie are, in the simplest terms, of “heaven”, or some equivalent thereof.
That horrible ‘Eyes on Me’ song boots up, and we see Rinoa wandering around. She finds Squall, and holds him, apparently thinking he’s dead. The clouds whirl open so the sun can shine through, pink flower petals swirl in the wind across a gorgeous green grassy plain, and Rinoa looks back to Squall with a look of amazement. Those pink petals turn to white feathers on the wind, and the movie cuts to Balamb.
At the Balamb port we see Seifer, Fujin and Raijin fishing in the same gorgeous sunny weather that Squall and Rinoa were experiencing. Fujin kicks Raijin into the bright blue water, and Seifer cracks up laughing like a schoolboy. Seifer, who I thought we had finally defeated for the last time, looks up and smiles as Balamb Garden sails by overhead.
The movie cuts to Laguna, who’s standing out at Raine’s grave. We get to see Laguna propose to Raine in the past, and they embrace. Laguna in the present sees Ellone coming back to see him, and they look up as the Balamb Garden goes over them as well.
During the credits they show a home video-type clip where all the characters get to act like complete retards. All the party members are there celebrating but Squall and Rinoa, and even Cid and Edea are in attendance. Irvine dances like a goon, Selphie bounces around like an airhead, and Zell stuffs his face with hotdogs. Yay.
After the final credits we get to see the stuff that makes the fangirls go wild. Rinoa stands out on the Garden’s balcony with Squall under a starry night sky. She raises her finger, just as Squall remembers, and Squall smiles back at her.
Watch the second part of the ending below:
If this was really how the game was meant to be interpreted, why did they make the “dream” so subtle? I can think of fifty ways to make it more apparent to the audience that the events taking place after disc one are not real. So, if the creators meant for Squall to die, they also meant for his death to be obscured and subtle. We view the dream as if we are the dreamers, and even though sometimes events take place that could never, ever happen in the “real” world, we do not become aware that it is a dream.
A similar plot can be seen in the film Vanilla Sky (just fyi, if you haven’t seen it, don’t read on; spoilers etc) in which Tom Cruise plays a character who chooses to have himself put to sleep. At a certain point in the movie, he begins dreaming, and the entire remainder of the film is a fabrication of his mind. At first there is little indication that anything is amiss. The plot continues as though nothing is different, except of course that everything starts to go his way.
After a while, though, things start to get a little crazy, and he ends up awaiting the death penalty for beating his girlfriend to death during sex while experiencing what appeared to be a delusion. And all the while the audience watches on in confusion, as unaware as the character that this is all just a dream. Now, the problem I had with Vanilla Sky was that they couldn’t just leave it alone. I think it would have been a really cool movie if they had left it up to us to discern what had really happened. Instead we, the audience, received a full exposition dump in the final moments of the film as a character carefully explains to the protagonist, and the audience, that the whole movie was really just a dream.
Maybe the only real difference between Final Fantasy VIII and Vanilla Sky is: they just never told us what really happened. In Final Fantasy VIII, they let us live in the dream as Squall did and we never know the difference.
The truth is, I don’t think there is a substantial amount of evidence to conclude whether or not the writers intended for the audience to interpret the game in this fashion. I choose to believe that this is how the game was intended to be understood because, to me, the game makes no sense otherwise. Everything that happens to the characters after the first disc is ridiculous. The ending is like recapping the game on acid. There has to be something more to the story than a simple ‘Hero Takes All’ plot.
Sometimes, while writing this article, I really felt that this is the real story of Final Fantasy VIII. But sometimes it all just sounds like poppycock to me. In any case, I think Squall's Dead is an interesting theory, worth considering at least, and I hope you think so too.
Thanks for reading, & let us know what you think in the comments below!
— Diedra & Rahul
Written in April, 2008. First posted Feb 14, 2010
Last updated on April 4, 2011
Certain quotes and script references were taken from Shotgunnova's Final Fantasy VIII script.
Squall's Dead by Diedra Rater & Rahul Choudhury is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Netherlands License.