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Sleep, the Cousin of Death

"Isn't there anything I can do?! You were so full of life. Now you don't even make a sound... I want to hear your voice.
... (This is like talking to a wall)" - Squall, after Edea's Orphanage, Disc 3

In Disc 3 of the game, after a battle with Sorceress Edea, Rinoa falls into an deep slumber. Her body becomes cold and unresponsive. She's not quite dead, but she's far from living. She is kept in the Balamb Garden infirmary, where Squall frequently goes to visit her. Our protagonists are not sure why this has happened, but Squall is set on reviving her.

Why did the game developers decide to put the main female lead out of commission for almost a quarter of the game? Here are my ideas:

Section Quick Links:
#1 Aerith Effect | #2 Squall's Development
#3 Character Reliance | #4 Love Story Antics

#1 The Aerith Effect

Final Fantasy VII (FF7) was the best-selling Final Fantasy title of all time. The surprising plot twist with Aerith ingrained both her and and the game into players' memories. The 11 year old in all of us really couldn't let it go. We kept waiting for Aerith to be resurrected. We sent in petitions to the game developers, long after they confirmed that they had strong reasons for including that twist. We hacked our Playstations looking for secret ways to revive her, or even just to have her as a sprite again.

"The fact that fans were so offended by her sudden death probably means that we were successful with her character. If fans had simply accepted her death, that would have meant she wasn't an effective character."
- Tetsuya Nomura, EGM Interview, 2005

Rinoa's coma could have possibly been a compromise between when developers wanted and what they thought gamers wanted. The FF8 team wanted to capture the same duress that resulted in massive fan loyalty and buzz. They thought, based on all the crazed rambling of mourning Aerith fans, that fans didn't want anyone to die. The result: a near-death experience, where you thought you lost Rinoa, but you'd be relieved when she returned.

Was it effective? Not really. You already knew Rinoa would come back in the end, so there was no fear. Rinoa's coma may have been sudden, but there was no shocking cinematic scene with it. Furthermore, Rinoa doesn't have the same admirable pluck or utility that Aerith had.

#2 Squall's Development

"(Let's go, Rinoa. Let's go meet Ellone. Ellone will bring us together. Sorry everyone. I can't go on like this.)
It's a bit far, but we'll make it." - Squall, the walk to Esthar, Disc 3

Disc 1 established Squall's personality. Disc 2 showed us the cracks in his armor. Disc 3 is when he surprises us. Squall presents himself as such a bastard on the surface that it's fun to see him act rashly and emotionally. That would not have been possible without Rinoa's coma.

After Rinoa is out of commission, Squall starts acting strangely. He starts asking everyone he meets for an explanation of Rinoa's condition. The astute soldier doesn't even pay attention to Edea's story, even being scolded by others because his mind was elsewhere. He punches walls. He threatens to kill anyone that would touch Rinoa's body, such as Dr. Odine and the Lunar Base staff.


Just as Squall's speech was a turning point for him as a leader, his walk to Esthar was his turning point in his emotional development. He snaps and does something unexpected. Abandoning his position, not telling his comrades, Squall secretly carries Rinoa's body off the ship and starts the long walk to Esthar. Along the way, he talks to Rinoa, revealing what he hates about his personality. This is a far cry from the Squall we met at beginning of the game, who didn't even respond to people directly speaking to him. On the bridge with Rinoa, he spoke to no one in a sort of desperate and lonely manner. He let go of the misconception that he didn't need anyone. If he didn't almost lose Rinoa, he might not have realized how much he cared for Rinoa and people around him.

#3 Character Reliance

Another reason may be that game developers wanted to cut down [character] reliance of a core main team, assuming that you were using Rinoa a lot then (as you should be, because she's the strongest character). After all, they spent a lot of time designing a diverse cast of characters. It would make sense that they'd want you to play all of them.

This occurs numerous times during Final Fantasy VIII. One example would be the exclusion of Selphie when she decides to infiltrate the Galbadian Missile Base. Another would be when Zell is unavailable during the Battle of the Gardens. You are also forced to include Zell during the Lunatic Pandora invasion of Esthar and the liberation of Balamb.

The forced exclusion or inclusion of a character is used in other Final Fantasy games as well. In FF7, there's a time when both Cloud and Tifa are unplayable because Cloud is dealing with a whole lot of crazy in his head. In FFX, there are some times when Yuna is unplayable and one boss fight using Kimahri alone. For half of FF13, the entire cast is split up and you're forced to use everyone.

#4 Love Story Antics

If you watch enough romantic comedy films, you'll start noticing a pattern. It goes like this:

  1. Boy meets girl.
  2. Boy falls in love with girl.
  3. Boy loses girl.
  4. Boy realizes his mistake and wins girl back.
  5. Happily ever after.

In the typical movie, the couple gets into a fight and break up at the climax of the story. Eventually, the guy will have a revelation about how much they love the other person. He'll find the other person and confess his feelings right before the girl gets married, steps on an airplane to a distant country, or some other dramatically perceived point of no return for their relationship.

Quistis: "Why did you go all the way out into space to save Rinoa!? To hand her over to Esthar!? So that you might never see her again!? No, right? Wasn't it because you wanted to be with Rinoa? ... You're a fool."
Zell: "Seriously."
- Quistis & Zell to Squall, Ragnarok, Disc 3

Rinoa's coma is the start of the climax of Squall and Rinoa's love story. It's not quite a fight (they fought all the time anyway, so that wouldn't deter Rinoa), but it still works because Squall loses Rinoa in some way so that she's not accessible unless he takes action. The point where Rinoa goes to the Sorceress Memorial to be sealed is the Final Fantasy equivalent of the close call in other romantic comedies. It may not be Squall barging into a wedding chapel or running down an airport terminal, but it serves the same relative function.