Why I love the big-ass buildings of FF8

Posting yesterday about the Horizon Bridge reminded me that I’m fascinated by massive human-made structures. Not even ones that were actually constructed. In high school, I loved reading about the wacky conceptual buildings that had no way to possibly exist. I was obsessed with the X-Seed 4000, a proposal for 2.5-mile-tall building that would cost trillions of dollars to complete and reads more like a piece of conceptual art than an actual proposal, like the Euthanasia Coaster that exerts such extreme g-forces that it kills everyone riding it.

There was part of me, I’m sure, that bought into some silly futurist vision of giant buildings that could become self-contained societies. But I think I also loved the impossibility of something colossal, absolutely massive that requires a non-trivial amount of the planet’s resources to create. When I wrote stories as a kid, there would be spaceships as big as the moon, or space elevators that go hundreds of thousands of miles up into space. Books as large as a building containing the complete history of the universe, opened and closed by a gargantuan machine god. Real Dune shit.

The more I think about the Horizon Bridge, I think a lot of that comes from Final Fantasy VIII.

Big structures aren’t unique to FF8 in the Final Fantasy series. There’s the enormity of Midgar, the Sister Ray, and the Weapons in Final Fantasy VII. The towering city-sized reimagining of Alexander in Final Fantasy IX especially got to me. Other FF games probably had big structures too (Kefka’s Tower?) but they hadn’t gotten stuck in my craw the way those three games did.

Even among the Final Fantasies, the giant structures in FF8 are pretty crazy. Like the Lunatic Pandora. Let’s JUST talk about the Lunatic Pandora for a second.

The massive Lunatic Pandora, an obelisk-like structure, hovering over a desert.

WHAT THE FUCK IS THE LUNATIC PANDORA??? It’s allegedly THREE MILES TALL and it FLIES. It was built in the span of a couple years and then it was SUNK INTO THE OCEAN, meaning it would have to be at least as far down as the Titanic sank. And in Disc 3 is flies over Esthar, a city that is HALF THE SIZE OF A CONTINENT.

I know what the Lunatic Pandora doe sfunctionally, but it is a THREE-MILE-TALL flying METAL BOX. It’s even taller than that X-Seed 4000 building! There is no possible way this structure could be built, especially not in the timeframe the game implies. And I am obsessed with it.

This is the type of impossible world I love: something artificial and geometric in proportions that could not even be conceived in real life, like the fortresses of Gahressen and the cylindrical Rama spacecraft. They’re exciting and threatening, things that should not exist but you absolutely want to learn more about. It’s why I love something like Brutalism: Prelude in Stone more than exploring Tamriel.

But it doesn’t have to be inorganic and full of straight lines. What about mother fucking Balamb Garden?!

Balamb Garden flying over Seifer, Fujin, and Raijin.

It’s an entire self-contained city with a library, a forest a cafeteria, and room to spare for a concert stage. It’s probably got a movie theater. It looks like an onion and the center part can separate out and be PILOTED LIKE A SHIP. It is a beautiful, bulbous work of art, large enough in scale that it could be an entire college campus mixed with a hovercraft, with basically the entire surface covered in gold filigree. AND IT FIGHTS OTHER FLYING SHIPS. It’s like the Enterprise-D on land.

I can’t imagine playing Final Fantasy VIII without wanting to explore more places like this. There’s a similarity with the original Halo, which takes place almost entirely in a single massive artificial setting, or the 2006 Prey game which does something similar.

There’s an element of hubris to these massive structures, the idea that you can create a self-contained world or a massive monument that can, must, and will exist through sheer force of will. I think this element might have been lost on me when I was a kid who maybe did believe that something like X-Seed 4000 could actually exist. There’s something beautiful and mysterious about a world where these structures not only exist but are ordinary, where of course the most technologically advanced country has a city that’s the size of the entire state of Texas. Where boarding schools for children can be entire Biodome-like self-sufficient cities in a world that otherwise seems downright pastoral.

I know the fantasy that’s in vogue right now is the isolationist cottage-core fantasy of escaping to the woods, but I’ve always been partial to the fantasy of living in a 3-mile-tall metal obelisk.