Squall Leonhart is one of those Final Fantasy characters that people either love or hate. Okay, they either like him, or hate him. No one really loves the guy. I’m sure some do, but I’m generalizing for the sake of a stupid joke, so go with it. Squall isn’t too popular, and it’s likely because he’s cold and aloof. The thing is, when Final Fantasy VIII first came out, I hated it…until I beat it, then I immediately played through it a second time, because I realized how much I loved it. If you’ve read any of my previous articles, you may remember that I’m a sucker for a good romance in a video game, and Final Fantasy VIII had that. You may question just why Rinoa ever fell for Squall in the first place, or whether or not Squall was living during the majority of the game.
This isn’t about whether or not Squall is a good Final Fantasy character, it’s about why I actually love him so much. I love him like I love an old friend, or like I love Stag. You see, when I was in high school, I identified with Squall so much that I started wearing a leather jacket every day, even during the summer months. No furry collar though, that would have been a bit too over the top for me. Squall was a loner, moody, cold, and he just always seemed depressed. This was me. As I was playing the game, Squall’s inner monologue that constantly popped up on screen throughout the game was a lot of the same thoughts that I had. Whatever. (See what I did there?)
Squall goes through a pretty big transformation during this game. He’s a member of the SeeD Academy in Balamb Garden, a school designed to raise and train mercenaries, who take various jobs throughout the world, but whose main mission is to fight and defeat the Sorceress Edea. Throughout the story, you see Squall finish up his training and graduate with flying colors, reluctantly make friends and become a squad leader, take up the mantle of the commander of SeeD, fall in love with a girl, and finally make friends with his peers.
I was always pretty darn good at school, but I never really took it seriously. Squall was much the same way, excelling at his combat studies, but never really giving much respect toward his teachers. I noticed the similarities between us right away. While Squall and I did pretty well and got by, we didn’t really respect the authority that was placed above us. The authority was seen as a necessary nuisance to put up with to accomplish our goal of graduation, even though we never really openly defied it, like characters such as Seifer did. While there were a few authority figures we respected, Headmaster Cid being an example, there was always room for a good eye roll and a spirited “whatever” whenever those teachers would give us a task that just seemed beneath us.
Squall did a lot of panicking in his head, but would only outwardly display that on a few occasions, when he’d run from the group, such as when Squall’s group gets word that Siefer is to be executed for working with the sorceress. I had issues with panic attacks in high school, and would sometimes have to get myself out of social situations when things became too much for me. I kind of saw Squall’s reactions to things like death as a similar issue to my own anxiety problems. Squall may have been an angsty teenager, but so was I.
Marching band and dangerous mercenary work are two completely different things, but the year Final Fantasy VIII came out, I was first chair mellophone, which is essentially a marching French horn. I was the “leader” of the marching French horn squad, and when Squall became the leader of his group, I could identify with him. While I was technically first chair, that didn’t really mean to do anything other than lead by example. Squall became the de facto leader of his group due to his prowess in combat, and his sense of responsibility, which was kind of the same for me. I wasn’t necessarily the best person to be doling out advice or guiding young mellophone playing freshmen, but there I was, placed in a position I wasn’t really comfortable with, much like Squall. I was good with my instrument, marching, and doing the job I was given.
Squall fell in love with Rinoa, a girl that was at one point a client of SeeD. She ended up sticking with the group after certain plot conditions unfolded. I was a sappy kid, I thoroughly enjoyed love stories, and Final Fantasy VIII was no exception. Interestingly enough, I ended up dating a girl from my mellophone marching squad for a few months. That was a long time in the world of high school. That same year, I went to a Halloween party dressed as Squall Leonhart. My transformation was complete! I was an angsty asshole! An angsty asshole who made a bunch of new friends who loved video games and Final Fantasy as much as I did. Much like Squall had finally accepted his party members as friends, I ended up finally finding a group of like minded individuals I could call friends…not that I didn’t have friends before that…Okay, I’m stretching at this point.
The point of all of this is that video game characters can be relatable, much like characters in film, literature, or television. While the tale of my high school adventures and how I saw myself as similar to Squall completely and irreversibly show just how geeky I really was, I think it’s a good lesson in seeing narratives in video games as being as impactful as the narratives in more traditional forms of media and art.