A Recap of Final Fantasy VIII.
Disc 1The player character, Squall Leonhart, awakens on a bed in an infirmary. His instructor, Quistis Trepe, arrives and scolds him for overzealousness: in a sparring incident (depicted in the somewhat cryptic opening FMV), Squall received a scar, slanting diagonally between his eyebrows, from his arch-rival, Seifer Almasy, and gave one in return. Quistis rousts him out of bed; he has much to do today.
Squall is a student at Balamb Garden, a school that turns orphans into Private Military Contractors called SeeDs. (Theme Naming!) Squall, 16 years old, is ready to graduate... But needs to pass the Noob Cave first. Quistis accompanies him to the Fire Caverns, where he subdues his first "Guardian Force." GFs are not only the Summon Magic of the game, they are also the heart of the "Junction" system, by which player characters can augment their statistics using their quantified inventory of Vancian Magic. Squall starts out with the Shock and Awe "Quezacoatl" and An Ice Person "Shiva" GFs, and from the Fire Caverns gets the Playing with Fire GF "Ifrit." All of them can be renamed, and all of them start out with various Junction abilities and can learn more. Squall can also unlock the ability to turn items and CCG cards (yes, we haven't covered those yet, keep reading) into magic, resulting in dizzying amounts of menus to control a system of almost unparalleled flexibility. That said, the tutorials were awful, and all of it is Infodumped on you right at the start as a Forced Tutorial, which many players found overwhelming and/or boring — in addition to how cumbersome the system itself can be.
Squall also learns to play the local Collectible Card Game, called "Triple Triad." Gameplay is quite simple: you get cards based on monsters and characters who have numbers in all four directions. You play these cards one at a time on a 3-by-3 grid. If you place a card you own next to a card your opponent owns, the rules compare the numbers that are facing each other, and if yours is higher, you "flip" their card to your side by changing its color to yours. After the grid is filled in, the player who "owns" the most cards wins. This execution can have lots of House Rules added onto it, which can make the situation much more complicated, but at its heart it is quite simple — and incredibly addicting.
After completing this dungeon, Squall is briefed on his final exam — which, as befitting a school which trains mercenaries, will take place during a live military maneuver. A little town called Dollet is under attack by the larger nation of Galbadia, who covet Dollet's radio tower — the only one in the world still functioning, as electromagnetic communication was largely abandoned about 20 years ago, shortly after the Sorceress War, because a persistent jamming effect blanketed the planet at that time. Only Dollet's still works, and Galbadia wants it. Several squads of SeeDs will be dispatched to aid in Dollet's defense. Squall's fire team will consist of himself, Seifer (the only other gunblade user in Balamb Garden) and Zell Dincht, a backflipping bare-knuckle brawler whose Limit Break allows him to string Fighting Game combos together. Quistis, the instructor, will keep the landing craft safe and monitor from a distance. Quistis fights with a whip and uses Blue Magic for her Limit Break, learning new spells by consuming certain items, but we won't get to use her for this mission; Squall wields a "gunblade," a Vibro Weapon powered by gunpowder combustion, which does extra damage if the player presses R2 at the correct time. This extends to his Limit Break, "Renzokuken," a flurry of sword slashes.
Militarily, Squall's mission is a success: after a chaotic beach landing, he and his team make their way to the radio tower and rebuff the Galbadian soldiers there, including a duel with their commander, Major Biggs and Lieutenant Wedge, whence Squall can obtain his next GF, Standard Status Effects inflicter "Siren." Squad discipline, on the other hand, suffers quickly: Seifer, looking for a test score that is Over Nine Thousand, abandons the squad and hares off after enemy soldiers. He is replaced by a fellow SeeD candidate, Genki Girl Selphie Tilmitt, who attacks using a giant nunchaku and has a slot-machine style Limitbreak. (It should be pointed out that the game's Junction system — and Level Scaling — render passive stat bonuses useless, and no character has innate, unique commands like "Steal" or "Blitz"; their Limit Breaks are their entire gameplay identity.) Finally, the retreat from the radio tower is complicated by a giant Galbadian spider tank, which pursues Squall's team all the way back to the beaches and is only dissuaded when Quistis, aboard the assault boat, serves it a lead salad. Nevertheless, the SeeDs make it home with no casualties.
The good news is, Squall has passed. He, Selphie, Zell and fellow candidate Nida are officially promoted by Headmaster Cid Kramer. As the four emerge, they are caught by Seifer and his two followers, Raijin and Fujin... who give them a round of genuine applause.
Afterwards, at a ball thrown to celebrate the graduations, Squall, doing his wallflower thing, is approached by a dark-haired Plucky Girl in an ivory dress, whom eagle-eyed players may recognize from the game's opening FMV. (She's not the girl Squall didn't recognize in the infirmary. Don't worry, we're getting to her.) Declaring Squall "the best-looking guy here" (which PS1 graphics could not validate), she convinces him to dance (against a waltz version of the famed single "Eyes On Me" by Galbadian entertainer Julia Heartilly) before disappearing again.
Back in his quarters, Squall finds a note left by a fellow SeeD, inviting him to meet the writer in the Training Grounds, a zone within the campus where random encounters are allowed. It's Quistis. The two fight their way to the edge of the training grounds, yielding a gorgeous view of the surrounding area. Here, in relative privacy, Quistis attempts to unburden herself of her worries — the youngest SeeD ever promoted to instructor, she has just been demoted again, leading her to question her own competence — but Squall, whose stoic exterior masks a frothing cauldron of insecurities and simply cannot relate to problems that aren't his, blows her off: "So go talk to a wall."
As they leave the training area, they find the Mysterious Waif from the infirmary, cornered by a monster. She calls out to them by name, and they save her, but she is escorted away by men in white suits and headbands before they can learn what her name is — and, more importantly, how she knows well Quistis enough to use the pet name "Quisty" on her, while Quistis herself cannot ever recall meeting her.
The next morning — remember, all of the above takes place in one day — Squall, Selphie and Zell are dispatched on their first official mission: they are to aid La Résistance in Timber, a small city-state on the Galbadian continent which has been militarily occupied for over a decade. Squall can first explore Balamb Garden itself, of course, visiting the library, playing Triple Triad, and accessing the school's network and intranet, which has a massive source of All There in the Manual information — such as the fact that Balamb Garden is the only Garden to use GFs, due to studies that implicate them in memory loss. Selphie writes in her diary, which is available for public perusal, that she hopes this isn't true. This will be important later.
Traveling by train, the three SeeDs fall into a dream, in which Squall watches the adventures of three Galbadian soldiers: a boisterous giant named Ward Zabac who wields a giant harpoon; the lithe, dark-skinned Kiros Seagill who attacks with dual daggers, and their leader, the awkward and upbeat Laguna Loire, the man with the machine gun. Laguna is everything Squall is not: optimistic, talkative and utterly without pretension. It's a lucid dream, if Squall's narration is to be trusted ("???" "??? ??? ???"), and the three soldiers have all of the party's GFs and junctions equipped, but this still doesn't explain why the dream is happening. It depects the three soldiers fighting their way through a forest — it seems to be taking place during the Sorceress War, a generation ago — and then returning to the capitol, Deling City, where they attend a club. Laguna is enamored of a young pianist, a Julia Heartilly, and, despite a rocky start, is able to make a good impression on her. Unfortunately, he is called away on another mission before he can solidify anything, leaving Squall to awaken on the train, reflecting on what he saw — "I dreamt I was a moron" — and discovering, to his surprise, that Selphie and Zell saw the same thing.
The SeeDs make contact with the Forest Owls, the movement they have been sent to aid. Squall is startled to learn that the group's leader, Rinoa Heartilly, is the Plucky Girl he danced with the day before (and that he can rename her — the only party member he's allowed to do that to). She, Zone and Watts — the entire membership of the Forest Owls — brief the SeeDs on their plan: to hijack the train upon which Galbadian president Vinzer Deling is traveling, swapping his car for a carefully prepared duplicate and abducting him with no one the wiser. The effort is successful, but the kidnapped president turns out to be a double, planted just in case.
President Deling — the real one — is headed to Dollet to take advantage of their radio tower. Almost all electromagnetic communication has been shut down for over a decade due to interference on all frequencies — a slight deviation from the game's technology level, which otherwise mirrors The '90s. Squall, Rinoa and the others rush to stop the broadcast, but the president makes it on the air to announce that he has appointed the sorceress Edea as his nation's new ambassador. With the camera still running, Seifer breaks into the studio to kidnap Deling; Quistis, assigned to stop him, calls Squall in as reinforcements. Ultimately, though, it is Edea herself who defuses the situation by abducting Seifer.
Squall, Quistis, Zell, Selphie and Rinoa fight their way out of Dollet, with the latter officially joining the party; she fights using a strange boomerang which is fired from a mechanism on her left arm, and her dog Angelo participates in most of her limit breaks. (Angelo can also be renamed.) With the Forest Owls' hideout compromised and train services suspended by national decree, the SeeDs seek refuge at Galbadia Garden, which does not train mercenaries but rather the G-Army. On the way they again dream of Laguna and his friends, who this time ran into Esthar forces excavating a gargantuan crystal structure at a Centra excavation site. Though Laguna and the others survive, all three are wounded, with Ward losing his voice.
Within Galbadia Garden, Squall's detachment regroup and try to figure out their next move. They are interrupted by a news broadcast that Seifer Almasy, erstwhile SeeD candidate, has been executed for crimes against Galbadia. The entire contingent are shaken — including Rinoa, who actually used to date Seifer back in the day — but Squall, The Stoic, is startled by how quickly the others begin to move on, wondering if he too would so easily become a Forgotten Fallen Friend.
The SeeDs (and Rinoa) are given new orders: under the supervision of G-Army general Caraway, they are to escort sniper Irvine Kinneas to the capitol and assassinate the sorceress. Caraway's motivation for betraying his president is simple: he doesn't want to see history repeat. Galbadia rose to prominence by winning the Sorceress War against the nation of Esthar 17 years ago, which at the time was ruled by a sorceress named Adel — a threat much too dangerous to be left unanswered. Since then, Deling has wanted a sorceress of his own for Lensman Arms Race reasons, as Esthar itself has become completely isolationist since the war — so cut off, in fact, that nobody is even sure how to set foot in it anymore — but Caraway believes that the result will only be Galbadia's ruin. He also wishes his daughter Rinoa would stop messing around with these silly resistance movements, though he's been having trouble keeping her under control without her mom around.note
Cold Sniper Irvine joins the party, completing the group of six characters the player will control through the majority of the game. Besides attacking with his rifle, Irvine's limit break allows him to barrage the enemy with special bullets from the party inventory.
In Caraway's mansion, the SeeDs solidify The Plan. The assassination will take place during a parade. Team Two, consisting of Zell, Selphie and Quistis, will take a position at a gated archway, in which to trap Edea; Team One, Squall and Irvine, will then take the shot. Rinoa offers to help suppress the sorceress's powers using an Odine-brand bangle, but Quistis has her stand down: she's not a trained SeeD. So Rinoa waits until after the others have left and then breaks out to do it anyway. Unfortunately for her, Edea sees her coming from a mile away, and summons some lizard-beast things that Squall and Irvine have to rescue her from; Squall can also retrieve the Attack Reflector GF "Carbuncle" from them. From that point on, the plan actually goes pretty smoothly; Team Two trigger the archway trap, keeping Edea in place — though not until after she has murdered President Deling, in plain sight of the parade watchers, and assumed the presidency. (In what can only be some sort of Doylist screw-up, the crowd keeps cheering and applauding even as she gives a "The Reason You Suck" Speech.) Irvine, having an outbreak of nerves, can't take the shot. Squall manages to get his spine back in him... but the sorceress blocks the bullet with a Force Field, forcing Squall to attack her head-on. Leaping to the defense is... none other than Seifer, now serving as the Sorceress's Knight. The SeeDs get through him, but Edea ends the fight by throwing an ice javelin through Squall's shoulder...
Disc 2Laguna Loire is staying in a little town called Winhill, where he washed up after jumping off a cliff to escape the Centra excavation site. Someone has come to visit him: Kiros. Laguna describes his life: since leaving the army, he has ended up in the care of a woman named Raine and a little girl she adopted named Ellone, a Heartwarming Orphan whose parents were gunned down in the Sorceress War. With his trusty machine gun, he (and Kiros) patrols the area, keeping the town safe from monsters. Kiros and Raine trade some celebrity gossip — Julia Heartilly, the singer whose first single "Eyes on Me" was about her One True Love, married some Galbadian general (Carawan? Caraway?) after said man never returned from the warnote — but Laguna doesn't care; his whole life revolves around Ellone and Raine now, as he has come to love them dearly. Ellone clearly feels the same way, actively trying to match Uncle Laguna and Raine together; apparently even a small girl can recognize Unresolved Sexual Tension.
Squall awakens in the D-District Prison, where he and the party are being held. Seifer tortures him for information, wanting to know why SeeDs are planted to oppose Sorceresses, but Squall can't confess something that nobody has ever told him. Seifer is increasingly separated from reality, treating himself like the main character in a movie. Once he's left alone, a Moomba — a furry biped which both Galbadia and Esthar use for labor — frees him, calling him "Laguna."
Zell, Selphie and Quistis awaken elsewhere in the prison and organize a jailbreak, aided by the fact that Ward was missing from the Laguna dream: while he and Kiros were hanging out in Winhill, Zell, as Ward, was a janitor... right here in the D-District Prison. Rinoa and Irvine are nowhere to be found: it turns out that General Caraway's daughter was recognized and, with her sniper bodyguard, returned to Deling City. Of course, Rinoa wasted no time in convincing Irvine to organize their own jailbreak. The three parties converge and escape the prison, in the process learning that Edea plans to retaliate by launching cruise missiles at Balamb and Trabia Gardens, destroying the two schools which produce SeeDs. As they watch, the cruise missiles emerge from their underground bunkers.
Rinoa has learned that Trabia Garden, where Selphie used to go before being transferred to Balamb, will be targeted first. Consequently, the party splits: Selphie leads a contingent to the Galbadian Missile Base to try and stop the next launch, while Squall heads back to Balamb with a warning. The player may decide who accompanies which leader.
Despite heroic efforts, Selphie, Whoever and Whoever fail to prevent the second wave of missiles. Even worse, despite having defeated all Galbadian forces in the base, including a massive tank, they find themselves trapped in the base with the self-destruct ticking down.
Squall, Whoever and Whoever return to find Balamb Garden in an uproar: some are siding with Headmaster Cid and others with Garden Master NORG, Balamb's angel investor, and meanwhile the Galbadian missiles are coming. This leaves the player with two problems to sort out. They can be handled in either order:
- NORG wants attention, of course. He plans to have Squall et al executed to appease the sorceress, disavowing Cid's stated mission of training SeeDs to oppose Sorceresses — such as Cid's wife, Edea — but Squall shuts him up with his gunblade. Cid, when pressed, insists on staying the course... even though the sorceress SeeD is destined to face seems to be his wife. NORG must be dealt with violently, of course... though the player has the option to Draw the Making a Splash GF "Leviathan" from him during the battle.
- Squall also learns that the Garden can be made mobile. He activates Balamb's hover mechanism and drives it away from its former location, causing the cruise missiles to impact harmlessly in a newly-made crater; however, the steering mechanisms have decayed from years of neglect, leaving the Garden adrift at sea.
The Garden encounters a boat crewed by the guys in white suits and headbands; they call themselves "Edea's SeeDs." They want to take someone named "Ellone" (Squall recognizes the name) away, for her own safety. When Squall finds this "Ellone," she turns out to be the willowy brunette from Disc 1, not to mention the little girl "Uncle Laguna" was raising in Winhill. Ellone accepts the protection of the "White SeeDs" and leaves the Garden. She admits she is the one sending Squall the Laguna dreams, but won't reveal how or why. It also leaves a lot of confusion in Squall's mind: if Edea is trying to hunt down Ellone, why are Edea's SeeDs trying to prevent this?
Balamb Garden — which is still not steerable — crashes into Fishermans Horizon, a town of Actual Pacifists built around a defunct train station on the Horizon Bridge which connects the continents of Galbadia and Esthar. Galbadia sends its military to occupy the town, demanding Ellone's whereabouts on Sorceress Edea's orders, but the SeeDs drive the G-Army out — in the process allowing Squall to demonstrate his belief that violence is a necessary evil, at least when it comes to protecting the downtrodden. His final opposition is a malfunctioning, beat-up tank... out of which emerges Selphie and her party, as they took shelter there from the self-destruct. (Optional content: if Rinoa was assigned to Selphie, she will have a teasing little scene with Squall, trying to get him to admit he missed her.)
Cid places Squall in command of Balamb Garden, a duty Squall accepts reluctantly. Selphie (finally) succeeds at organizing the Garden Festival, giving players access to a brief minigame where every party member but Squall and Rinoa can be assigned an instrument, playing either (a 12/8 smooth jazz version of) Eyes on Me, a sort of Irish jig, or some unholy combination thereof. (This is less funny than it sounds, as the two songs are in the same tempo.) Rinoa takes the opportunity to ask Squall to be more open with his friends; Squall, the Ineffectual Loner who uses Safety in Indifference to cover fear of abandonment, agrees, but mostly to get her to leave him in peace. The townsfolk of FH, though still dubious of soldiery in general, repay their gratitude by repairing the Garden's rudder mechanisms. The player is now in command of their first vehicle.
The town of Balamb is occupied by Galbadians, for the same reason FH was. They are under the command of Raijin and Fujin, Those Two Guys who accompany Seifer everywhere, but Squall's team emerge victorious. Raijin and Fujin declare their Undying Loyalty towards Seifer, who doesn't have a friend in the world other than them, and Squall lets them go — though not before Drawing the Blow You Away GF "Pandemona" from Fujin during the Dual Boss battle.
Squall then sets course for Trabia Garden. There are survivors, but the place is a ruin. Optional Content: Selphie can be found visiting the Garden's makeshift graveyard, quietly telling her friends what became of her.
As the party gather to converse over their next action, Irvine reveals that everyone in the party, save Rinoa, plus Seifer and a slightly older girl named Ellone, used to live in an orphanage together, cared for by a woman named Edea — the very one who has currently taken over Galbadia. The other party members are surprised to remember that he is right. He never brought it up when he found the old gang back together again, as they never brought it up and maybe they had moved on, blablablah, handwave, Retroactive Idiot Ball, etc. Squall joins the Pensieve Flashback, recalling his own attachment to Ellone, whom he called "Sis." The Laser-Guided Amnesia is handwaved by the explanation that Guardian Forces live in the portion of your brain where memory is storednote ; Irvine, who had never junctioned one until joining the party, has therefore never surrendered his memory to them. This also explains why his Cold Sniper persona folded during the operation against Edea; he had trouble pulling the trigger when the target was, for all intents and purposes, his mother.
This is the game's central Plot Twist, and it explains a fair bit of why the game has such a divisive reaction amongst fans. Irvine's attachment to Edea is foreshadowed, but the stuff about memory loss is All There in the Manual and can easily be missed. The memories themselves are, despite the game's insistence, merely repressed, since it takes very little for Irvine to tease them out of his friends' brains. The Contrived Coincidence of all these characters — who grew up together, who are essentially family — getting back together now is simply never discussed; the idea that it might have been on purpose — Edea and Cid founded the Gardens, remember — is left to Fridge Brilliance. While the characters do start to bond more now that they've remembered themselves and each other, the game never draws a causal link between this revelation and their evolution into (and/or return to) True Companions. And finally, it changes nothing: The SeeDs know they have to kill Edea, and once they learn she is, for all intents and purposes, their mother... they just stick to their mission. Only Rinoa — the one party member who has a non-Edea mother — brings up the possibility of non-lethal intervention.
Squall decides to investigate the orphanage to find out why Edea has become evil, only to discover Galbadia Garden, now also mobile and under command of Edea and Seifer, has arrived there first.
The Battle of the Gardens involves chaos, bedlam, aerial maneuvers, boarders riding motorcycles, plans and counter-plans, Rinoa almost getting sliced in half by the Gardens' hover drives, and (if the player chooses) an order to make sure Zell's Trademark Favorite Food is safeguarded. There is also some (rather non-professional) contretemps as Zell attempts to borrow Squall's favorite ring, as Rinoa has asked him to make a copy of it for her. She keeps it for the rest of the game, after the player is allowed to name it Griever. After repelling the boarders, Squall & Co invade Galbadia Garden, where they encounter a Bonus Boss called "Cerberus" which turns out to be a Support Power GF. Then it's on to fight Seifer and Edea, Edea pointing out Squall as the legendary SeeD destined to face her. After stealing the Light 'em Up "Alexander" GF from Edea, the SeeDs defeat the Sword and Sorcerer combo, leaving them collapsed on the floor. Rinoa begins acting strange and revives Seifer, who departs, before falling unconscious herself.
After Seifer is gone Edea calls out to Squall and his friends in kindness, marveling how they have all grown up. She explains she had been possessed by a sorceress from the distant future named Ultimecia, and that up until now she has been an Empty Shell that Ultimecia has been controlling. Ultimecia plans to "compress time" to gain sorceress power from every sorceress who has ever lived to become a god-like being, and to enact her plan she sends her mind back in time to possess other sorceresses. Ultimecia is looking for Ellone, whose Chronoscope powers are needed for the time-compression spell.
Edea explains that any woman with the potential to receive sorceress powers may become a sorceress. The process is dubbed the embodiment, wherein a dying sorceress passes on her powers to a chosen successor who is unable to reject the transfer of power. Once an individual becomes a sorceress she may still be used as a successor for the powers of another sorceress. Ultimecia's plan is to collect all of the sorceress power and become a Physical God.
Disc 3Rinoa is still comatose. Squall, who is growing fond of her, determines that he should find Ellone and use her powers to Set Right What Once Went Wrong. They find the White SeeD Ship and learn Ellone has gone to the hidden nation of Esthar. Squall takes the Garden to FH and visits Rinoa in the infirmary. He falls asleep and dreams of Laguna taking part in filming a movie on the Vienne Mountains. Ellone has been kidnapped by Esthar on Sorceress Adel's orders, and Laguna had left a heavily-pregnant Raine to go rescue her; this (somehow) evolved into Laguna Flynning against a real live dragon using a gunblade, a weapon he hadn't wielded since training. (Fun fact: this is the movie that inspired Seifer's "romantic dream" of being a sorcerer's knight. During the filming, Laguna does a flourish with his gunblade... which is identical to Seifer's victory dance.) Laguna glimpsed a mysterious floating pillar on the horizon, and as Squall begins to awaken he hears Ellone's voice apologizing for having accidentally sent him back in time again. Squall calls out to her, to no avail.
Squall resolves to take Rinoa to Esthar himself. He debarks the Garden at Fishermans Horizon and begins to walk, carrying her on his back, to the other side of Horizon Bridge — literally, partway around the world. His friends and Edea follow him, Edea explaining she wants to go to Esthar to see the famed scientist Dr. Odine — said to have studied sorceresses — due to her fear that Ultimecia may possess her again. She also joins the party as a Guest-Star Party Member, using ice magic to attack and Limit Break. (Despite no longer being a puppet for the Big Bad, she still wears her Evil Is Sexy catsuit. No Watsonian explanation is given.) On the other end of the bridge, the party discovers Esthar City is camouflaged behind an Invisibility Cloak. Esthar is Galbadia's major political rival and its territory spans the entire eastern continent. Since the end of the Sorceress War, Esthar's President has used its advanced technology to keep it isolated from the world.
As they enter Esthar, Squall and Co are forced into another dream by Ellone. Laguna, Kiros and Ward had made it into Esthar, but had been taken captive and were enslaved at the Lunatic Pandora Laboratory. He, with the help of some Moombas, broke free and located Ellone within Dr. Odine's lab where Odine had been researching her powers of telepathy and mental time travel. The four of them were dissatisfied with Adel's stewardship of the country and discussed what to do.
Upon awakening, the party is taken to meet Dr. Odine, who tells Edea that she is no longer a sorceress. Squall insists on taking Rinoa to see Ellone, but — once again — she isn't here; thus, he, Rinoa and a party member of his choosing are launched into orbit to visit Esthar's Lunar Base. Ostensibly established for moon study, the Lunar Base's true purpose is to oversee Sorceress Adel, Esthar's ruler during the Sorceress War, who is sealed in a spacebound tomb to prevent her from ever passing on her sorceress power; the President of Esthar is, in fact, there now, making sure everything is okay.
Back on the ground, Zell and Edea supervise the remaining party member. They are shocked to see a massive black monolith rise from the ocean and fly across Esthar City. The monolith, known as the Lunatic Pandora, was created by Esthar to artificially trigger the Lunar Cry, an event where monsters fall to the planet from the moon — the origin of most of the monsters on the planet. The weapon was built under Sorceress Adel's rule, but after she was usurped the Lunatic Pandora was deemed too dangerous and sunk to the bottom of the ocean. Seifer engineered its unearthing as part of Ultimecia's plan. Zell's party infiltrates the Lunatic Pandora and discovers it houses the crystal pillar they saw Esthar excavating in the second Laguna dream. The pillar originates from the moon, and thus has an affinity with it. Unable to proceed deeper into the pillar, Zell's party is ejected by a Galbadian robot.
On the Lunar Base Squall reunites with Ellone; she has come to the Lunar Base to meet someone, but won't reveal who. Squall explains he has recovered his childhood memories and now remembers Ellone is his sister from the orphanage, and begs her to send him to Rinoa's past. Ellone explains she has discovered it is impossible to change the past using her ability, but learning from the past can allow one to understand the present.Meanwhile, Ultimecia takes possession of Rinoa's body and uses her to spacewalk out and unlock Adel's tomb. Ultimecia abandons Rinoa's body in space as the Lunatic Pandora back on the ground triggers the Lunar Cry and monsters pour down on the planet. Adel's tomb is swept into the current of monsters and falls into the Lunatic Pandora, while Esthar City almost literally drowns in monsters.
Lunar Base is being evacuated, and as everyone puts on their space suits — with the President of Esthar begging Squall to look after Ellone — and enters the escape pods, Ellone sends Squall back in time. He discovers Rinoa was possessed by Ultimecia back at Galbadia Garden when she revived Seifer and ordered him to restore the Lunatic Pandora, but is unable to affect the events. When Squall awakes he begs Ellone to try again, and Ellone sends Squall to Rinoa's consciousness as she floats alone in space, running out of oxygen. Via Ellone's power, Squall tells Rinoa to activate the emergency oxygen supply in her space suit. She does so, and Squall exits the escape pod to go after her. He catches up with Rinoa in outer space. The two are re-united... but adrift in high orbit with no method of surviving re-entry. By great good fortune, they spy a derelict spaceplane, Ragnarok, which had been abandoned near the Lunar Base.
After repressurizing the spaceplane and freeing it of a monster infestation, Squall and (the possibly under-leveled) Rinoa activate the radio and make contact with ground control. (They are surprised that the radio even works, given the electromagnetic interference that has been going on for close to two decades, but realize that said interference was a byproduct of Adel's tomb; now that it's gone, the airwaves are usable again.) Esthar welcomes them home, but demand that Rinoa be surrendered to them, as she is a sorceress and thus a potential pawn in Ultimecia's schemes. Rinoa agrees and is led away.
Squall's friends find him alone in the Ragnarok. They help him realize how much he loves Rinoa and push him into action before he regrets it. He rescues Rinoa and they escape back to Edea's orphanage. Rinoa is skeptical of the future, seeing as Squall is the leader of SeeD, an anti-sorceress army, but he assures Rinoa that she is not his enemy. The two promise to meet at the flower field behind the orphanage should they ever be separated — a conversation first glimpsed in the opening FMV.
- Squall can duel the Queen of Cards, an eccentric individual who wanders the world. More importantly, he can pay her to alter the rules of the game. Every region has their own House Rules, and you can be responsible for spreading them throughout the world — which is good when the rule is "Open," "I can see my opponent's hand," but bad when the rule is "Random," "Both players' hands are determined by the Random Number God and therefore every match is a Luck-Based Mission." The Queen of Cards is the only way to alter rules in a controlled manner.
- Squall can also duel the CC Group, the best players in Balamb Garden who will challenge you one by one. These, in particular, are necessary if you want to get some of the best cards in the game. (Most of the CC Group are random NPCs with no name, but the former King turns out to be none other than Dr. Kadowaki, Balamb Garden's medic. She reveals the identity of the new King: Quistis, of course, who visits Squall in his dorm. Once defeated, each player may be challenged again at any time.)
- The player may also visit two different Peninsulas of Power-Leveling.
- One is Cactuar Island, populated by the eponymous monsters which give only 1 Experience Point but level your GFs at astonishing speed.
- The other is — are — The Island Closest to Heaven and The Island Closest To Hell, which are populated by various dragon-style monsters, as well as Ochu and Marlboro, that all break the Level Scaling cap; in return, they have some of the best spells in the game, and the islands are also littered with hidden Draw points stocking more of the same. (Abuse Quistis's Degenerator Limit Break to One-Hit Kill them, typically gaining you 75% of a level per battle.)
- There are nine remaining GFs that are not drawable from bosses.
- The first has actually been available for some time: When sending you off to aid the Timber Owls in Disc 1, Headmaster Cramer will give you a Magic Lamp. Inside hides "Diabolos," a Casting a Shadow Bonus Boss that is pretty difficult when your combat abilities are as limited as they are back then. You can prove your mettle by conquering it immediately, or just carry around the lamp until later.
- The "Brothers" are a Dishing Out Dirt GF which can be found at the Tomb Of The Unknown Soldier, which is north of Deling City in Disc 1. The plot only requires Squall to enter the dungeon's first room, where he finds a pass code for Gen. Caraway, but actually bothering to spelunk the place yields you a GF.
- "Tonberry" is found in the Centra Ruins, a dungeon which can first be accessed via Balamb Boatgarden and is populated by Tonberry enemies. Kill 15 to 20 of them and the Tonberry King will appear; Defeat Means Friendship. While not particularly useful in battle, Tonberry has powers that grant you discounts when buying items, higher prices when selling them, and — crucially for after you've passed the Point of No Return — access, from the game's party menu, to any shop you've ever visited in the past.
- Odin is also found in the Centra Ruins, at the top of the tower. Odin is arguably not a GF in that you don't Junction it and it doesn't provide you stat bonuses; instead, he drops in at random times to deliver a One-Hit KO on whatever you're fighting. He is also Mutually Exclusive Party Members with...
- Gilgamesh, who replaces Odin after he suffers a Plotline Death during an event which is further down the page. Gilgamesh operates the same way Odin does, but with a lower success rate. (This is arguably an improvement, since sometimes you don't want Odin to One-Hit KO the monster you were planning to Draw 237 more Firagas from.)
- "Cactaur" is, unsurprisingly, fought at Cactaur Island. It allows you to deploy its signature "10,000 Needles" attack, which scales to the wielder's level. It also has all the "Bonus" abilities which increase your stats upon level-up.
- "Doomtrain" is unlocked by finding a Plot Coupon outside Esthar and then combining it with a number of items. Where Siren inflicts Silence on its targets, Doomtrain inflicts every status effect you can think of and others you can't — such as the "Vit-0" status unique to this game, a Damage-Increasing Debuff which reduces the victim's defense values to 0.
- "Bahamut" is found in a secret dungeon, the Deep Sea Research Center, a somewhat complicated dungeon where you have to walk while lights aren't shining or else fight a battle. Also, you have to fight Bahamut himself. But afterwards, you have Bahamut.
- "Eden" is found in the same place. It is hiding in Ultima Weapon, a major Bonus Boss. In addition to the "Devour" ability that lets you convert monsters into rare items, it takes "Limit Break" to a new and literal level by being one of the first abilities in the franchise that can explicitly deal 5 digits of damage. The other is Quistis's strongest Blue Magic, Shockwave Pulsar. (The "Break Damage Limit" concept will not be revisited until Final Fantasy X, though it has since been retconned into remakes of earlier games. Additionally, you could in fact inflict 5 digits of damage in Final Fantasy III, but the game would incorrectly display "9999" if you did.)
Esthar contacts the Ragnarok, wanting to hire Squall's party for one last SeeD mission. The party heads for the presidential palace in Esthar City where they meet the president of Esthar... none other than Laguna Loire, who staged a revolution against Adel all those years ago and succeeded her as Esthar's ruler. Laguna tells the story of how they tricked Adel into being frozen and used Ragnarok-class spaceplanes to transport her tomb into orbit. He had sent Ellone home to Winhill and intended to follow when everything was over, but before long he had nothing to return to: Raine died, and Ellone ended up in Matron Edea's orphanage, leaving Laguna to continue his role as Adel's gaoler. Ellone had gone to the Lunar Base to tell him the whole story — Raine's passing was a Death by Childbirth, and Laguna has a son, though Ellone does not know where he is; the residents of Winhill, who never liked Laguna, dumped both children in Edea's orphanage, and Ellone was parted from her adoptive brother for her own safety. (She actually spent most of her childhood on the White SeeD ship.) As to Ellone herself, she is now a captive of Adel somewhere on Lunatic Pandora.
The party discusses Ultimecia's plan of time compression with Dr. Odine, who had studied Ellone's ability to send one's consciousness into different eras. Odine used his knowledge to create a prototype "Junction Machine Ellone." In the future, Ultimecia is using an improved version of said device to reach back in time to take over the bodies of sorceresses; however, the machine has limits on how far it can send a consciousness back in time. Ellone's power does not have this limitation, which is why Ultimecia wants her. With her mind present in all eras of time, Ultimecia would then be able to cast the Time Compression spell and become an omnipotent deity able to control all time, space and existence.
Dr. Odine and Laguna have formulated a plan to stop Ultimecia. SeeD will need to defeat Adel so she would pass her powers to Rinoa, making her the only sorceress left in the present era. When Ultimecia possesses Rinoa, Ellone will send both of their minds into the past, allowing Ultimecia to engage Time Compression. Ellone would then sever the link sending everyone back to their respective eras, temporarily halting the spell... but leaving Squall & Co in Ultimecia's era, free to defeat her.
The Two Lines, No Waiting are united as President Laguna Loire and his aides Kiros and Ward come aboard the Ragnarok to enact the plan. (Kiros tells Squall that he should be glad he takes after his mother. If you duel Laguna at Triple Triad, he has Squall's card. Laguna was living with Raine when she became pregnant, and Ellone is Squall's adopted sister. It's subtext, but it's pretty clear: Squall Leonheart is the son of Laguna Loire and Raine. Hey, more Theme Naming with water motifs! This fun bit of Generation Xerox also explains why "Eyes on Me" — the song Julia wrote for her first love, Laguna — is also the love theme for his son Squall and her daughter Rinoa.) The party invades Lunatic Pandora, with Laguna's group heading out for Ellone and Squall's team looking for Edea. Within, the Galbadian forces are questioning their commitment to Seifer, with some, like Biggs and Wedge, even deserting outright. Fujin and Raijin try to convince Seifer to stop serving Ultimecia and go back to being their friend, and set Ellone free; Fujin, the Terse Talker who thus far has communicated solely in one-word, all-caps statements, even uses complete sentences. But Seifer says it is too late to turn back now. After a battle, in which, if you have it, the GF Odin attempts to fight and is slain, only to be replaced by Gilgamesh, Seifer captures Rinoa and offers her to Ultimecia (now in the body of Adel)...
Disc 4Ultimecia junctions Rinoa to Adel's body, but Squall's party fights Ultimecia (as Adel). As Adel's body succumbs, she passes on her sorceress power to Rinoa. The Plan proceeds as originally outlined, and Squall's party reach Ultimecia's Castle in the future. The party finds a dark world ruled by Ultimecia and the corpses of White SeeD around the shoreline of the old orphanage. Squall observes that SeeD has been fighting Ultimecia across generations.
Though Ultimecia's Castle is the Very Definitely Final Dungeon and the Point of No Return after which no towns are available, Squall, through careful maneuvering, can return to the Ragnarok and complete any Wide-Open Sandbox activities he did not already take on. Additionally, if the CC Group were already defeated, all of them are found aboard Ragnarok, having (in the meanwhile) managed to get their hands on every rare card you didn't already have.
The gimmick of Ultimecia's Castle is that all abilities besides "Attack" are locked when you enter, and you must defeat all eight sub-bosses to unlock them. If you know what you're doing, of course, you can just breeze on through; for instance, though you must unlock the ability to use Save Points within the dungeon, there's also one just outside, so you could skip at least one boss if you're willing to do some backtracking. Additionally, if you missed Siren, Carbuncle, Leviathan, Pandemona, Alexander and/or Eden, the bosses have them in stock. Ultimecia herself has four forms: first, herself; then, her strongest GF, a lion-esque creature named Griever; Griever with herself junctioned onto it; and finally, a faceless form that appears to be absorbing all creation. (As an Easter Egg, this final form has the final drawable spell in the game, "Apocalypse.")
After Ultimecia is defeated, Time Compression starts to unravel, and Squall and his friends must find a way back to their own time. Ultimecia and Squall travel back in time to Edea's orphanage, to a time when Squall was only a child and the Garden hadn't yet been built. Squall witnesses Ultimecia passing her powers on to the Edea of the past before fading away. Squall speaks with Edea and mentions Garden and the SeeDs, but Edea is puzzled as she's never heard of these terms. Squall, realizing he has inadvertently created a Stable Time Loop, resumes his struggle to get back home. He ends up in a place gradually slipping into nothingness. He tries to concentrate on Rinoa to make his way back home, but is unable to picture her face. In the present era, Rinoa waits for Squall at the flower field at Edea's orphanage. She transforms a flower petal into a white feather that locates Squall. He grasps the feather but is too weak to make his way back... but Rinoa has found him.
Seifer spends his days in the company of Fujin and Raijin in Balamb Town. As Balamb Garden passes overhead he looks up and smiles, implying he has moved on. Laguna visits Raine's grave on the hills outside Winhill where he recalls proposing to her, while Ellone, Kiros and Ward watch on at a distance.
The SeeDs reunite at Balamb Garden for a celebration party. Edea has abandoned the mannerisms and dress sense of a sorceress and attends the party with Cid. Quistis plays hostess while Zell finally gets his Trademark Favorite Food. Irvine and Selphie use a video camera to document the festivities. And, after the credits finish, Squall and Rinoa stargaze on the Balamb Garden balcony, kiss, and Squall — for the first time in the game — smiles.