Often fantasy and science fiction braid the protagonist’s understanding of how the world works with the reader’s, so that the discoveries are shared. In both kinds of speculative fiction, though perhaps more frequently in fantasy, part of what the protagonist comes to understand more and more is how their actions can have a lasting impact on how their world works. That is: the protagonist’s discoveries often center the protagonist as important for that world. Sometimes I think this is because world-building authors of either genre adore the worlds they’ve created perhaps more than any of the characters they set down within it; a character whose journey involves discovery and alteration of that world keeps both world building and the character at its center. There’s few leading shmucks in fantasy.
As FFVIII progresses, the characters do discover more and more about the world, though there remains startling gaps in knowledge that I’ve tried to gesture in previous essays. Much of what we discover centers on Rinoa Heartilly, as a fresh sorceress, and Squall Leonhart, as the son of Laguna Loire, as the prophesied SeeD who destroys Ultimecia, as the time-travel-shenanigans inventor of the Garden military academies that shape Squall, his friends, and modern statecraft. The story is explicitly one of self-discovery, as Squall uncovers and addresses the source of his difficulties with emotional connection, but is also implicitly. What we learn about the world turns out to be learning about the importance of our leading characters within it.
And yet, this isn’t a shrine to Squall or Rinoa.
As I’ve struggled with this shrine, I’ve had a complicated feeling of rage and grief on behalf of Quistis Trepe. Like, you were better than the role they wrote for you. In some ways, that feeling doesn’t make sense. The character consists in nothing except what the game writes of her. How could she be better than what she is?
What Quistis is turns out to be two things: a truly remarkable soldier who pursues excellence in everything she does while reaching out to everyone she cares for in their moments of need; and not terribly relevant to the history or destiny of the world. Yes, she fights that big-bad monster at the end, but even so her contribution isn’t uniquely necessary, and much of her usage within the plot often feels like a contrast to Squall in his favor. Instructor at 17? Try Commander of Garden at 17. Because this is a shrine to Quistis Trepe, the foregoing essays should serve to ground her importance in the grand scheme of Final Fantasy VIII. It’s a world that can stand without her. She keeps striving anyway.
I’ve always found that immensely heroic and relatable; how heartbreakingly plausible that one could try their hardest, meet challenges that seemed like the pinnacle of human capability ... and fall short, because the world isn’t quite the way you think it is.