i'm more complex than you think
Final Fantasy VIII opens with an epic FMV, full of symbolism that doesn't make much sense until much later in the game, mysterious words shown above a flower field, a chant that sounds Latin and isn't, and finally a duel between Squall and his rival, Seifer. That last brings us into the start of the game, where our hero has just landed himself in the infirmary with a fresh scar across his face. Nice job, kid, we're only five minutes into the game and you're already getting your ass kicked.
Of course, this isn't a surprise to Dr. Kadowaki or Quistis, his teacher. Seifer has long been a troublemaker, and Squall isn't about to back down from a challenge.
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One of the most important things about Squall's character — and one I think often gets forgotten — is that he's a seventeen-year-old kid. He can think he's complex as he wants, but when it comes down to it he's not fooling anybody. Quistis genuinely wants to get to know him better, even as Squall pushes her away, because past the cool, aloof exterior he puts up, she sees someone she likes.
Indeed, much of the first few hours of the game emphasize these aspects of Squall's personality. He's a loner. He only puts up with other people as much as he has to. As FFVIII is an RPG, the player is often given choices for Squall's behavior, such as showing a new student around Balamb Garden or ignoring her and continuing on his way. The former, of course, serves as a tutorial for the player, but it's important to note that whenever these choices come up Squall can stay true to form and brush people off.
It's obvious that what Squall is trying to be is the cool, collected mercenary, one who does his job without breaking a sweat or losing his composure. He's written this way, but he's a seventeen-year-old boy, and everything he does is to further present that image of himself. To that end, one can't help but compare him to the last hero of the Final Fantasy series, FFVII's Cloud Strife.
Like Squall, Cloud starts off the game as a mercenary, willing to do any job for the right pay. He comes off as cool and aloof, and at first he isn't interested in forming any meaningful relationships. Within a few hours of gameplay, though, Cloud finds some very powerful motivations to shift his focus from money to his closest allies, and his journey shifts to one to settle his past.
So, then, how does Squall differentiate himself — especially with Cloud's legacy hanging over him? With the extreme popularity of FFVII and the base similarities between our two heroes, Squall has a lot to live up to. And the answer is that he's not actually the default leader. Squall starts the game out as a SeeD cadet, not a full-fledged SeeD, and he's not given the role of team leader on the mission to Dollet. More than that, he follows Seifer's orders without any issue, and even indirectly thanks him for the match they had earlier that day.
Squall: I stand by the captain's decision.
Seifer: ...Captain's decision? You want to wreak some havoc too, don't you?
Squall: It's a good opportunity to test out my training. Thanks to you, I feel like I can take on anyone. Even if they do fight dirty, like you.
Seifer: You'll thank me when the time comes.
Squall only takes the lead in the mission when he has to, given that Seifer's run off yelling about his ~romantic dream~. Other than that, he's content to do what he's ordered. Squall has no interest in getting involved in the business of others — he doesn't mind smashing some shit if he gets the opportunity, but he's not exactly going to go out looking for it, either. Right now, he's a follower, not a leader. He doesn't care to be anything more.
Some hero he is.
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