I thought I could go into Final Fantasy VIII with no guide. I had heard rumblings of its complexity, but I wanted to go in as fresh as possible. I have 0 conception of what it is as a game so I was excited to experience it as unaffected by game culture as possible. Everything at the start of the RPG was going just fine, albeit with lots of text being thrown at me about all of its intricate systems. A lot to parse to be sure, but I didn’t hit any roadblocks. There was even a fun optional card game mentioned, Triple Triad, a student NPC was kind enough to pass me a starting deck. I completed my first mission, received a new GF or Guardian Force in Ifrit (I’m sure this joke has been made a million times but GF will always be read as “Girlfriend”) and even received Ifrit in the form of a card. I was starting to feel comfortable and upon returning to Balamb Garden decided I would challenge people to Triple Triad. I reviewed the rules in the tutorial section fairly quickly and played the first person I came across, a man waiting around near the gate.
A brief note on the rules of Triple Triad. The game is essentially War where you take cards based on numerical values. If one card has a greater number, then that card wins and the player who has the most cards at the end wins the game. Triple Triad is more complex in that you place cards on a 3×3 grid. Each individual card has 4 values representing each side of the card (up, down, left, right). The winning card is determined by the numbers that are adjacent to the card played next to it. For example, two cards placed horizontally will match their left and right values and the winner is determined based on the numbers next to each other. Both players are assigned a color at the start, red or blue, and winning a card is represented by that card changing color to the other players. If you’re red and your card wins, then the other card will change from blue to red. This gets more complicated with multiple cards being placed adjacent to one another and there are different rules governing turning over cards in this situation. It seems like later in the game elemental affinities play a role and there will be different rules on turning cards over, but I was only an hour in.
My first game with the man at the gate loads up. I select my 5 cards to play against his, including my fancy new Ifrit card, which has much higher numbers than the other starter cards in my deck. I place this card in a corner first feeling that its high numbers will do me good. He places a card and immediately Ifrit gets turned over. No matter, I see a part of Ifrit that has a lower number than one of the cards in my hand. I place it underneath and nothing happens. My adversary places a card next to my new one and that flips over. I immediately begin to panic as 4 of the 9 cards played are all red (his color). I place a card adjacent to his new one and it flips! My excitement quickly drains as he places another card and flips yet another one of my cards. The game becomes decisively his and by the end I don’t have a single blue card exposed on the table. I start to get mad, feeling cheated after losing by a landslide in my first game. My anger only ratchets up as I realize that losing a game means losing a card and the AI goes straight for the jugular and takes my Ifrit card.
This mother fucker from 1999 just conned me. What seemed like a nice innocent side game just turned into a blood match. How hard could this game be after only a few short tutorial screens? This is the starting area, shouldn’t everyone I play be relatively easy? Final Fantasy VIII instead came to play and swiped my lunch money in the process. Now you’re probably saying “Brenton no worries, just reload your save and it’ll be like nothing ever happened.” Well you see I essentially backed myself into a corner by breaking the RPG cardinal rule; I didn’t save right before this encounter. In fact, I hadn’t saved since before the first full mission. I could go back and start from this save and make up the couple of hours I sunk in. It wouldn’t even be too hard. But now my ego was involved and if the AI could take cards so could I. I paused the game and did some Google Searches for Triple Triad walkthroughs. Multiple walkthroughs mentioned how good the games tutorial on it is; I beg to differ. I also saw that you should probably wait until you have more powerful cards; too late for that one. I was going to humiliate the AI with my crappy cards and win my dignity back.
Just like a drunk in Las Vegas, I was making poor decisions by continuing to engage with the game. I had a sunk cost and I was going to win my money back. Obviously this was a poor decision even if I had a better understanding of the rules. I continued to lose repeatedly and I watched card after card disappear from my deck. The house continued to rob me blind as I watched my life savings slowly be offered as a tribute to the gambling god. Now I am left with only 4 cards in my deck and can’t even play against people anymore. The casino sent over its security and despite my protests through me out onto the street. I felt wobbly and gave them the finger but it’s not like they can notice from behind the glass doors. I was thoroughly defeated in a side game that consumed my playtime. My dignity had been traded to the man at the gate and added it to his deck with passivity. The game was stacked in his favor from the beginning and I willingly played into it.
Anyways I hear the RPG part of this game is pretty good, guess I can start finding out.