Throughout the game, Squall sometimes forgets people he meets quickly. He forgets about "familiar looking guy" in Fisherman's Horizon and he even forgets Nida, who became a SeeD with him. This can be seen as a running joke in the game, or it could be alluding to how terribly the GF induced memory loss is affecting Squall.
Some people concluded that in Final Fantasy VIII, there's a Bad Future where Ultimecia has wiped out SeeD and rules the world, and this is guaranteed by a Stable Time Loop. However, look closer; the dead SeeDs are within line of sight of Ultimecia's castle. Ultimecia's castle is devoid of soldiers or real security measures. Hell, some parts of the castle appear to have been hit by artillery fire. And Ultimecia is desperately trying to engage Time Compression. Heck, the first thing she does when she takes over Galbadia in the past is to attempt to destroy Garden and thus wipe out the SeeDs before they even really exist. Looking at this evidence, there is an alternate conclusion as to the "bad" future: SeeD was winning the war and Ultimecia's use of the Junction Machine Ellone was a Skynet-esque desperation tactic to stave off defeat - in which case, the happy ending is reinforced, not ruined.
This is further compounded by the fact that she actually points towards this in the opening monologue of the final battle: that SeeD were "swarming like locusts across generations." On its own, this little statement implies that SeeD hasn't quit pestering her for quite some time ("across generations") and she never truly got over that particular obstacle. She does seem to view SeeD as a persistent nuisance in her little speech, but the abovementioned attempts prove that SeeD is a serious threat to her at the very least.
A lot of people complained that Ultimecia's appearance was something of an Ass Pull and that she never got any real development. However she was in control of Edea for over the course of the first two disk, the speech she gave when President Deling introduced her, that was Ultimecia speaking, the clothes that Edea wore when under Ultimecia's control are a stark contrast to the simple black dress she is seen wearing in the flashbacks and at the end of the game. Even the speech patterns that Edea used (if not the accent) were similar to Ultimecia's during her "The Reason You Suck" Speech before the final battle. - GX Next
Tiny, tiny bit of probably unintentional brilliance from the ballroom scene: imagine that you're at the graduation ball of a military academy and you see an otherwise good-looking young man leaning against a wall by himself, looking some flavor of unhappy, with a fresh scar across his face. What conclusion do you draw? Rinoa's first line to Squall, "You're the best-looking guy here," is a gesture to reassure him that he's not disfigured, and her pestering him to dance with her is an effort to cheer him up from what looks like it must have been a pretty rough day.
Rinoa actually irritated me in the scene, because I know I'd be confused and annoyed if some random girl came up to me, tried fake hypnotism, and then forcibly dragged me onto the dance floor... but now I'm looking at it completely differently. Hats off to you, good sir/madam. I was pretty indifferent to Rinoa before, but you've just made me like her. Looks like I'll be replaying the game with that in mind.
There are two scenes early in the game: the opening FMV has Seifer hitting Squall with some sort of fireball spell and then slicing him in the face, and the battle against Edea ends with him getting Impaled with Extreme Prejudice by a magically-generated shard of ice about the size of a 2x4. Both Seifer and Edea later become Guest Star Party Members. If you use their Limit Breaks, Seifer shoots a fireball at his target then slices it up, and Edea fires an icicle spear at hers. In the cutscenes, they're using their Desperation Attack because Squall was kicking their ass. Nice aversion of Gameplay and Story Segregation.
Along the same lines, observe that immediately before Seifer pulls the abovementioned move in the opening FMV, he is on the losing end of the duel because Squall is hammering him with fast, repeated blows from his gunblade... just as he does in his own Limit Break.
Also at the very end of the scene, note how Squall swings his gunblade to scar Seifer. It's the Rough Divide finisher.
Squall is an infamous source of irritation due to his cold, overly professional nature both on and off the job, even if they acknowledge the fact that the emotional baggage didn't help. But consider the fact that he was never adopted out of an orphanage which doubled as a military academy, and it suddenly makes sense that he is the perfect soldier—because he doesn't know any other way to act.
Final Fantasy VIII could actually be seen as an interesting deconstruction of the concept of Child Soldiers. Instead of the romanticized notion of the raised-from-youth warriors being ideal and deadly and unmatched in combat, we see how such children would realistically act. Seifer's youthful arrogance nearly compromised an entire operation when he leads his team off-mission. Squall's lack of socialization with others leads him to be an introverted head case. Quistis' youth leads her to act unprofessionally multiple times. Zell's youth and the hormones associated with them make him into a hothead who blabs the name of his organization on national television. Irvine's youth, inexperience, and uncertainty result in the botched assassination. Sure, in combat they're quite competent, but letting them operate on their own results in as much failure and confusion and poor decisionmaking as it does success. There's this underlying theme that training these children and sending them into combat at such a relatively young age is a really, really bad idea for both their operational effectiveness and mental health, and the game makes it subtle instead of Anvilicious, which is quite clever.
Let's not forget Selphie, whose uncontrolled enthusiasm, tendency to be easily distracted, and reckless overconfidence nearly get her (and her party) killed during the missile base infiltration. It easily leads to them being found out, and it's only quick thinking that lets them leave alive.
I'd like to argue though that Zell is the most emotionally stable, hotheadedness aside. The fact that he was the only one who was adopted and FOUND happiness in his adoption (Quistis was the only other orphan stated to be adopted but she left quickly), and thus, had the biggest semblance of a normal childhood. Not perfect, but still far better compared to the others, with only Irvine a bit of a far second. Also, unlike the others, even Quistis, he only joined Garden because of how much his idolized his war hero of a grandfather, not because he was unhappy with his life and/or didn't know any other way of living. Plus, while he's not the "perfect soldier" that Squall is, at least in demeanor, Zell balances it by being the second-most, if not outright most, competent of the party, skill-wise. Zell is shown to be adept at technology, and carries an encyclopedic knowledge of history and military tactics. It can be easily forgotten amidst the chaos but right before the Garden clash, when everyone thought Zell was still asleep, you immediately find that not only has he been awakened by the alert, he's already leading a squad of cadets to hold the quad. Regarding his blabbermouth, it was only one incident that ultimately proved to be inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, and not only is he shown to be remorseful of his blunder, but has not made any significant blunders since. Compared to Seifer who is the REAL hotblooded mess of the orphans. Zell got over his carelessness, Seifer allowed his fantasies to control him.
Extremely minor case (don't know where to put this in). You know, when I checked the names of the main player characters (both first and last), I saw this minor difference. Here's their names for reference: Squall Leonhart, Quistis Trepe, Zell Dincht, Selphie Tilmitt, Rinoa Heartilly, Irvine Kinneas. Check the last one. His first name's first letter is not only in the first half of the alphabet (A-M), but it's also a vowel. Don't any of you think this is a subtle hint of his (initial) 'outcast' status (and his use of a gun)?
About the Train Job in disc 1. I was wondering how the heck the uncoupled cars could somehow catch up and recouple if there's no locomotive on their end. Sure, the FMV shows the Timber Owls train deliberately slowing down to couple to the cars at the back before picking up speed to connect to the front, but that didn't explain the cars recoupling after the Timber owls train made off with the President's car. Then it occurred to me... the dummy President car probably has its own mechanism timed to put the brakes on some time after the Forest Owls train disengages, slowing the front half in order to recouple.
The President's agitated behavior over the security also clues us in that it's a decoy, who hasn't quite acclimatised to his role, while a real dictator would be paranoid to the level that no amount of security is enough.
Squall's dialog with Rinoa after freeing her from Esthar: "Even if you become the world's enemy, I will be your knight." Was anyone else reminded of Seifer's schtick throughout the entire game that he is the Sorceress' Knight? Squall and Seifer are more alike than either of them care to admit, and had things gone differently, Squall could have been in exactly the same position.
The parallels between Squall and Seifer are pretty obvious and certainly intentional. It's more of a contrast than a direct similarity, though, since their approaches are very different — Seifer aspires to knighthood for its own sake (his "romantic dream") so Ultimecia is able to use his aspirations to manipulate him. Squall, meanwhile, has no such aspirations and assumes the role purely for love of and in order to protect Rinoa without caring about the imagery or trappings of the role.
After getting the Ragnarok and rotating party members for some time, you'll notice that Quistis is actually third choice for Ragnarok pilot after Selphie and Zell. Selphie's methods are arguable, but if you went for the Deepsea Research Facility sidequest though, you'll see Zell's qualifications for yourself.
Why did Headmaster Cid use Guardian Forces that can make people forget their early childhood? So when Squall and rest of the gang fight Sorceress Edea they won't remember the woman that took care of them in the Orphanage and they can fight at their fullest.
Why does Ultimecia get very little development throughout the game? Because she's not the real villain. The real villain is time itself, and how it strips away the safety and security of childhood, how it drags people inexorably towards an uncertain future. Ultimecia's plan to freeze time is the ultimate rejection of the ravages of time, ensuring that nothing in the world will ever change again, ever. Makes you wonder if Squall had magic powers, would he have compressed time so he never left the orphanage?
Why does Squall repeatedly state to himself that "You can't depend on people" or other morose tidbits? Not because he believes in it (how he fell for Rinoa proves that) but because he's trying to convince himself it's true. It's a psychological defense mechanism, pure and simple.
A little bit of Fridge Brilliance that is Breaking the Fourth Wall: In-game, use of GF is confirmed to cause memory loss. The way the game is set up (its mechanics) encourages you to use your GF only passively (junctions and abilities) but not actively (summoning). So either Square is trying to protect us from the long-term effects of GF-(ab)use or it is a cleverly hidden clue to how to beat an otherwise ridiculously hard game.
The English version translates アルティミシア as Ultimecia, but it can also be romanized as Artemisia, as in Artemis, the moon goddess, unifying her thematically with things like Lunatic Pandora, or the Lunar Cry.
The very subtle hints dropped throughout the game that Squall is Laguna's son. For one thing, the characters selected for mind-travel tend to be random so long as Ellone knew them at the orphanage. Squall is always selected — which is a given since he's the hero — but he always mind-travels to Laguna. All of the other characters are paired with Kiros and Ward randomly, but Squall is the only one consistent with one person. Then there's the D-District Prison, where after Squall's torture the Moombas start randomly shouting for Laguna, mistaking Squall for Laguna. Later on in the game it's revealed that Laguna interacted with Moombas and tried to teach them to speak, and that Moombas identify humans by the taste of their blood. The fact that Squall's blood tastes like Laguna's indicates some familial relation. Then there's the incredibly telling dialogue Kiros, Ward, and Laguna give to Squall on the Ragnarok before the final battle.
Laguna's history with Julia is seldom mentioned after the first flashback, and she appears to be the one that got away. She later goes on to marry Rinoa's father and obviously bear Rinoa as a child. Assuming the above entry is canon, then Julia and Laguna's feelings for each other are finally given a chance to be lived out by their children, Squall and Rinoa.
Cid holding Seifer's Triple Triad card may seem strange at first, but if you buy into the theory that Cid served as Edea's Sorceress Knight due to being married to her, while she holds her own card, it comes together brilliantly! While most may think Cid holding Seifer's card is him holding the most troublesome Garden student's card as a position of his headmaster status, but it's actually because while Cid doesn't have a Triple Triad card, Seifer did, and Seifer serves as the closest thing to Cid in terms of Sorceress Knight status! Cid and Edea hold the Sorceress Knight and Sorceress cards. The same can be said for Caraway holding Rinoa's and Laguna holding Squall's! Because the most logical sources for the holder(s) of SK and Sorceress cards would be the people closest to them! Or in other words, Cid holds Seifer's card because they both are Edea's (and Ultimecia by extension) Knight.
Simpler than that: aside from the ones created during the Queen of Cards sidequest, all of the unique character cards are held by someone who is in some way connected to the person represented by the card. Ma Dincht has Zell's card, Rinoa's father has hers, Ellone has Laguna's, and Laguna has Squall's; it makes perfect sense for Cid to have Seifer's card given that, as one of the two caretakers of the orphanage and the founder and headmaster of Balamb Garden, he's the closest thing Seifer has to a father.
Tying into the aforementioned point about how Garden and SeeD show why child soldiers are a really bad idea: notice how unprofessional Garden really is. They've got some serious organizational issues: Unruly and unprofessional squad-level leadership (Seifer, Quistis), an unclear command structure (see the short-lived Garden civil war), an inadequate system of punishment for insubordination/disobeying orders (Seifer being locked up in detention for abandoning his post), lack of respect for entire components of the command structure (everyone hates the Faculty), and so on. They don't really act like a professional military force should. SeeDs seem to rely entirely on their own individual capability to succeed at their missions because the Garden organization is wholly inadequate to handle it. And the reason why: Garden was founded by civilians who had no idea how to run a military force! Cid, Edea, and NORG were not military. Cid and Edea ran an orphanage, while NORG was a businessman. Cid and Edea built up Balamb Garden like it was a school and orphanage, and NORG introduced the mercenary aspect as a way to make money to fund the whole enterprise, but at no point did they try to structure Garden to be a proper military force because they didn't really know how to - or perhaps they didn't think it was necessary. And even more telling, Garden doesn't start acting anything like a real military force until after the previous leadership is removed (Edea being possessed, Cid removing himself from command, and NORG being forced into his cocoon) and new leadership is installed in the form of Squall, who has some leadership experience as a soldier. Once Squall is in command and Garden goes on a war footing (or as much as Garden can, considering its limited military capability beyond superpowered infantry), it still remains something of a middle/high school but it also becomes notably more professional.
It's mentioned by a student that many of her classmates dropped out after the Battle of the Gardens, causing the school to become quiet and lonely in their absence. However, it's also noted by another student that Balamb Garden as a whole is much more battle-ready than it was a short time ago. This implies that the students most suited to combat training and a military environment have chosen to stay behind, effectively transforming Balamb Garden into the military academy it was always supposed to be.
Tying in with the World War II overtones of the game, Winhill is a dead-ringer for the kind of quaint little mid-20th century Merrie Olde England towns ravaged by war such as Coventry. Coventry was famously toured after its devastation by Prime Minister Winston Churchhill.
Squall's stupid name. Yeah, the Final Fantasy protagonists have kind of a weather-themed name tradition going on, but it just dawned on me that his parents fit the bill. Theirs are specifically water themed names. Laguna is the translation of lagoon in some Romance languages, and Raine is literally rain.
It's often cited as a weakness of the game that Ultimecia (and Seifer, to a lesser extent) has a dense, impenetrable motivation that she never explains. But it's actually a strength, thematically. Since villains are typically a Foil for the hero, she wouldn't undergo the same character arc the hero does, and would retain the vices he outgrows. Squall learns to open up and share his own inner world with his friends, but Ultimecia doesn't. Not until the very end, when she tries to explain about time to the party in the final battle. But it's too late, and her monologue ends on a tantalizingly unfinished sentence. All that she was, all that she thought and felt, is lost to time forever, leaving only outsiders to try and piece her motivation together — just like Squall's friends have been doing with him for the entire game.
There is a Zombie draw point in Trabia Garden's graveyard. I repeat, zombie magic is flowing through the place where Garden students are buried.
Why did Headmaster Cid use Guardian Forces that can make people forget their early childhood? So he will have loyal Child Soldiers that only remember growing up under his care.
This doesn't seem to be precisely the case, given that Cid specifically encourages the SeeD trainees to think for themselves, saying he doesn't want them to be like automatons, and completely abdicates authority to Squall as soon as Garden makes the shift from military academy to active fighting force. It's more probable that he did it, at least in part, to make sure that Squall and his team would be able to fight against Edea without being conflicted by their memories of her as their childhood Matron. Which is still pretty creepy.
The most logical conclusion is that he had them train with GFs because that's the only way to have enough power to fight a Sorceress and have a chance of winning. Sure, we can fight and win without them, but that's just game mechanics, not what's actually supposed to be happening.
There was a scene for Irvine that hit a lot harder in retrospect when I realized something. When Irvine is nervous and preparing to assassinate the Sorceress Edea, he's probably hiding the real reason he's troubled. Later in the game, you find out that all of the principle characters were raised in the same orphanage, with Cid and Edea as caretakers, and everyone but Irvine forgot due to the influence GFs. So Irvine remembers the woman he's preparing to assassinate as a loving caretaker and mother figure. No wonder he's nervous.
That scene pretty much changes Irvine's entire character when you know about Edea being Matron. He knows he can't blow the secret and tell Squall the real reason he's nervous, and there's a very good chance that his excuse, that he always gets nervous and screws up, was a complete lie; if he couldn't perform under pressure, Galbadia would have sent some other sniper, and he wouldn't be able to hold his trigger finger still enough to let a butterfly land on it. There's nothing to indicate he ever screwed up any other time, before or after that event.
Not only that, but apart from Rinoa, he's all together with his old childhood friends... but it's clear none of them even vaguely remember him, which is something that should already hurt for someone. Combine that with the above about Edea and not only is he hollowed by that, but the fact that said friends are effectively ordering him to put a bullet to her head like it was nothing like broke him further. Worse, it was obviously pointless to tell them that reason at that moment as he'd be seen as crazy on top of being full of hot air about his skills. It's why it's likewise good foreshadowing that the first thing we ever see him do is to let a butterfly land on his pointed finger, which requires the precise steadiness expected of a gunner and sniper like him. Irvine's arc therefore represents the pain we all feel when our old friends and the people that we loved before have outright forgotten about us and you just end up feeling awful for the poor guy, having to create a facade of the aloof but womanizing marksman to hide such pain.
The Stable Time Loop is functionally Squall's fault as much as Ultimecia's. Squall gave Edea the idea for SeeD and the Gardens by telling her "Garden trains SeeDs, and SeeDs are trained to defeat the Sorceress," which prompts Cid and Edea to build them and start building their teenage mercenary army. Which means, for however many generations between the end of FFVIII and Ultimecia's rise to power, they've been encouraging hatred against Ultimecia before she even did anything wrong.