It’s no secret that Final Fantasy VIII is the real black sheep of the family. Those who are veterans of the beloved series know that the game threw in all kinds of quirky mechanics, many of which remain controversial. The Junction system, the way that simple level-grinding is a terrible idea this time around (enemy levels scale with your own, and they gain far better stat boosts from said levels than the player’s party)… it’s quite an oddity.
Nevertheless, the game’s enjoying a bit of a renaissance now, thanks to the long-awaited HD remaster that finally dropped back in September. To celebrate the taciturn hero Squall Leonheart and his unforgettable adventure, let’s rank every city and town in the game. Appropriately enough, there are eight of them!
8 Fisherman's Horizon
Fisherman's Horizon is a peaceful, sparsely populated town built on a bridge between continents. It connects Esthar to Galbadia (though the citizens of Esthar are perfectly happy up there in their mountains away from everybody else) and is presided over by a mayor who abhors violence of any kind.
When the SeeD party discover that Balamb Garden is mobile, they accidentally plow into Fisherman's Horizon and the mayor doesn’t exactly send out the welcome wagon. In terms of amenities, sidequests and such, there isn’t much to do in this town, though it is the setting for some significant moments in the story (such as the Galbadian attack and the scene in which the party learns and performs a song).
As far as Squall and the party are concerned, Winhill is an entirely optional area. The scenery is idyllic, there’s a minor sidequest to take part in (gathering fragments of a vase that have scattered around the town) and a couple of items to nab. All in all, you’re missing very little if you never stop off at this isolated little village.
For Laguna, however, the place is of very special significance. One of the residents, Raine, nurses him back to health here after he’s grievously injured, and he later marries her (the couple have a son, Squall, though Laguna was away on duty and didn’t know that). One of the flashback episodes featuring Laguna takes place here, offering some of the game’s most poignant moments.
In true series fashion, Final Fantasy VIII certainly starts off with a bang. Playing through Squall’s SeeD examination may not sound like the most thrilling opening, but a battle with Ifrit in a lava pool as part of the tutorial? That’s ambitious.
After the fiery fiend is bested, Squall and Zell are sent to Dollet to help the town and its military, which is under siege from Galbadian forces. This coastal town is quite large, but after the memorable battle (Quistis destroying X-ATM092 with a gatling gun being a highlight), there’s little (in any) reason to return here.
5 Shumi Village
Shumi Village is another obscure optional location that Squall and the party can travel to once the Garden is mobile. It’s located on the frozen northern continent, close to Trabia Garden.
It’s another out-of-the-way place that took Laguna in as he recovered from a misadventure. While there, he made such an impression on the townsfolk that they worked to erect a statue in his honor (you can help them complete it by working through a sidequest when you visit as Squall). There are only a handful of buildings here, but the home of the enigmatic Shumi people is worth a visit.
Timber is one of the first true towns the player visits, shortly after becoming a verified SeeD member. The party’s first mission is to journey here to rendezvous with a resistance faction calling themselves the Forest Owls and fight alongside them.
Timber is quite large for a town in Final Fantasy VIII, offering lots of interesting encounters and minor-yet-worthwhile sidequests and items for the curious player. Needless to say, it’s also the town where Squall first encounters Rinoa, making it super significant for a one-and-done story-based town.
3 Deling City
There are few true towns in the world of Final Fantasy VIII, and even fewer that are large enough to be deemed cities. The first truly large metropolis the player visits is Deling City, which plays host to the ultimately doomed SeeD mission to assassinate Sorceress Edea.
For newer players, it can be a real maze to navigate, hence the convenient bus service that allows the player to ‘fast-travel’ to important locations in the city. There’s a lot to do and see here, not to mention how crucial events in Deling City will prove to be to the overarching plot.
2 Balamb Town
This quiet coastal settlement is the first true town the player will visit. It’s located a short, beginner-friendly walk from Balamb Garden, first serving as the team’s route to Dollet. Zell’s mother lives here (as players who have spent several hours hoping she’ll play the Zell card can attest), and it’s also the first place where the Queen of Cards can be encountered.
Balamb is a town that will prove essential again later in the story, during Galabadia’s occupation. There are some fantastic story moments and some great comic relief to be had here, making this iconic little town one of our favorites in the game.
1 Esthar City
As we’ve seen, Final Fantasy VIII isn’t an RPG known for its huge, sprawling cities. There are only two, in fact. Deling City has certainly confounded lots of players with its interconnected pathways and similar roads, but Esthar City is way out in front on that score.
It’s only in the late game that Esthar City becomes accessible. It’s a bustling, futuristic metropolis, offering the greatest array of stores and amenities anywhere. It’s also the player’s gateway to some of the game’s most iconic moments, including the trip into space and the journey through the interior of the Lunatic Pandora.