I’ve done some crazy, insane and downright absurd Building Character articles in the past. That’s mainly because I am quirky and dislike following the standards set by the untold masses. That is why this month, I’m very happy. Why, you ask? Because the theme of our Building Character articles this month is characters we love to hate. And there are few characters I hate more than Final Fantasy VIII’s Squall Leonhart.
Now I’m sure some of you are already bristling with anger, so just wait a moment and let me clarify my reasons. When it comes to me, I tend to prefer protagonists/ characters that are compelling and sympathetic. I’m not content to root for some cookie cutter clone, or some poorly fleshed out stereotype. Granted, such characters are sometimes prevalent in anything touched by Japan (I’m looking at you, anime/manga) but this is far from always the case. Even though the same tropes do reoccur in the Final Fantasy series, many of the unique quirks of the characters differentiate them. What makes Squall especially unfortunate to me are that his particular quirks only enrage me.
Let’s start with the basics. Unlike Cloud, who is a silent protagonist for the most part, we always know what’s on Squall’s mind. Which would be a good thing, if he very had anything nice or constructive to say. Unfortunately, Squall tends toward the extreme emo spectrum of characters, and thus spends the vast majority of the game complaining about things and being indifferent towards most everyone. Even his beloved Rinoa, their relationship supposedly being the crux of the game, has to fight tooth and nail to get him to be decent to her. I feel this is especially apparent in the following exchange.
Rinoa: Hmm…so this L I O N of yours, does it have a name?
Squall: Of course. Griever.
Rinoa: So that’s what you call it. You know Zell said he’ll make me one exactly like it. Who knows, maybe I can become like a lion, too. That’d be crazy, huh!? I mean, everyone might, y’know, get the wrong idea about us.
Squall: (If it’s so crazy, why do you sound so delighted?) (Everyone is trying to get us together.) (It’s so obvious even I can tell.) You sound like you want everyone to get the wrong idea.
Not exactly Romeo, is he? And yet we’re supposed to root for him during the entirety of the game, up until the very end when he suddenly falls head over heels for the woman he supposedly had feelings for. Now to me, that is just asinine. When a kind, beautiful woman expresses interest in you, you respond favorably, not like some mopey emo teen. What exacerbates this, in my mind, is that Squall really has nothing to complain about.
Squall is one of the elite mercenary units called SeeDs, trained and perfected at Balamb Garden. He’s capable, good looking and powerful. He is taken care of and has friends. So why the loner bullshit? He can’t even get along with Seifer, his supposed comrade in arms who becomes fatal foe (granted, Seifer IS a dick), and when Rinoa tries to roust him out of his stupor and dance, he wastes time pretending he can’t dance when in fact he is quite capable, as dancing was a mandatory part of his training (for some reason). This becomes a pattern in the game, as his friends constantly try to drag him out of his isolationist moods and get him to lighten up. These are his comrades, constantly fighting to save him and others, and yet it still takes hours and hours of play time before he finally snaps out of it.
I feel I should stop here briefly to address a point I think many of you would raise in contention. That point is, Squall grew up in an orphanage. Some might venture that he was adversely shaped by his past, which caused him to grow up into such an unsociable adult. Only one problem – Squall doesn’t remember most of his past. Which begs the question, what caused him to become this way? I honestly have no answers. The convoluted plot of FF VIII, which ultimately involves a time travel paradox and even random aliens, is a bit hard to parse through and make sense of. At least, I found it thus.
Believe it or not, I don’t despise Squall. I just see him as a wasted opportunity. If he had spent less time complaining and more time enjoying his life, the vast opportunities and friendships presented, it would have been a completely different game. Instead of moping, he could have done more constructive things with his life. But those very wasted opportunities are what make him such an easy character to dislike.