Story summary - disc one
This is an overview of the key points of the story as told through the game. Finer points of detail will be added at a later stage.
In the opening movie of the game, Squall and Seifer are fighting. They both use gunblades - a sword/firearm hybrid, and Seifer soon uses magic also. There is obviously a bitter rivalry between the two, apparently evenly matched fighters. Thrown by Seifer's use of magic, however, Squall is at a disadvantage, and Seifer slashes his face, leaving a nasty diagonal wound across his forehead. Squall doesn't take this very well, and returns the complement, leaving an identical wound on Seifer's face.
The game starts with Squall waking up in the Infirmary after this fight, with a pounding headache. Dr Kadowaki calls his instructor, and while waiting for her Squall catches a glimpse of a vaguely familiar girl through the window. She disappears before he can talk to her, however, and his instructor, Quistis, arrives. She tells him off a little for fighting with Seifer (another of her students, we discover) and reminds him that he has a field test to take in order to complete his training.
As Squall goes through the final phases of his training, we learn a little about where and who he is. He is a resident student at Balamb Garden, which is a training facility producing elite mercenaries. The Garden is run by Cid, who is both Headmaster of the training side of things, and in charge of the deployment of qualified mercenaries, known as 'SeeDs'.
Garden operates on a series of basic rules. As Squall gets ready for a test we discover some key Garden locations: the training centre, library, cafeteria, dorms, infirmary, quad and reception area. Balamb Garden itself is close to Balamb Town, where there is a range of amenities: shops, hotel, a harbour and railway station.
Once he's ready, Squall goes with Quistis to the Fire Caverns close by Garden for a field test. Quistis reminds him how to use magic; SeeDs have access to Guardian Forces (GFs) which they can 'junction' in order to access their powers. As well as enhancing the individual's attack and defence capabilities, junctioning a GF means they can use magic spells, providing they have stored enough 'magic'.
Squall defeats a GF called Ifrit in the Fire Caverns, who is so impressed by Squall's prowess that he agrees to serve him. Squall has also passed the test; he and Quistis return to Garden, where he is congratulated and informed that his final practical SeeD exam will also be a real mission. He is to go with his team to Dollet, to help the locals resist an invasion from neighbouring Galbadia. Squall meets his team for the exam: the arrogant Seifer and hyperactive Zell, neither of which Squall seems particularly enamoured with. To the disapproval of both Zell and Squall, Seifer is put in command.
Once in Dollet, they are instructed to wait in the Town Square. Seifer becomes bored, however, and decides to lead them to the Communication Tower in the hope of finding some action. Seifer irresponsibly runs ahead, and Squall and Zell are joined by Selphie, who has new orders for them.
After a battle with two Galbadians, Biggs and Wedge and a nasty monster from whom the GF Siren is taken, Seifer returns, and Selphie relays the order to reassemble at the landing area on the beach. Seifer runs off again, and Squall and the others are chased by a huge battle-robot. Squall only just makes it into the transport in time.
Upon their return to Garden, Squall learns from Cid and his assistant, Xu, that he has passed the test and will graduate, as will Selphie, Zell and another cadet called Nida. Seifer, however, has failed for disobeying orders, and is severely reprimanded.
Selphie drags Squall along to the Ball being given in honour of all the new graduates. Squall doesn't seem to be having much fun (we get the idea by now that he's not a happy bunny, and insists on being rude to just about everyone he meets), until a pretty girl in a white dress approaches him and persuades him to dance. Just when Squall's getting into the groove, however, she runs off, presumably having spotted the person she claimed she was expecting to meet there.
While Squall's still reeling from this unusually social experience, Quistis arrives and tells him to meet her in the Training Centre. Once there they go to the 'Secret Area' where young SeeDs apparently go to make out. Quistis opens up to him, sharing how nervous and anxious she is, and reveals that she has lost her job because it was decided she 'wasn't instructor material'. Squall refuses to be sympathetic, however, and seems to completely miss the fact that she seems very fond *cough*totally in lust*cough* with him.
On the way out of the Training Centre the two of them save a young girl, who seems oddly familiar. She's led away by two men Squall doesn't recognise.
The following morning Squall, Selphie and Zell (with Squall in charge) are given their first full SeeD assignment. They are sent to Timber, to help an underground organisation called the Forest Owls to overthrow the Galbadian government by kidnapping the President. It transpires that the Forest Owls are led by a young woman named Rinoa Heartilly, the same girl who dragged Squall onto the dance floor at the ball. Her resistance movment seem to be incompetent and amateur, which annoys Squall no end.
The kidnap attempt doesn't go quite according to plan, however, as the 'President' turns into a monster which the gang then kill. Their mission should be over, but Rinoa reminds Squall that the contract Cid signed means they are bound to support the Forest Owls until Galbadia is liberated. To this end the party goes to Timber, where the real President is giving a television broadcast. Squall has a row with Rinoa, who storms off.
The broadcast breaks up just after the President announces a new alliance between Deling and 'the sorceress', and there appears to be trouble behind the scenes, Squall and the others run into the studio, where they find Quistis, Seifer and Rinoa with President Deling. Apparently Seifer fought his way out of the disciplinary room to get there. Zell lets slip that they are all, except Rinoa, from Balamb Garden; the President swears that Galbadia Garden will not hesitate to attack Balamb in retribution should anything happen to him.
Seifer drags the President away to a back room, where a strange woman appears. She paralyses the others and talks to Seifer, persuading him to end his childhood and join her. He eventually agrees, and the two of them disappear.
Worried that the sorceress may have injured or killed Seifer because he attacked the president (he was jealous of the others for getting the Timber mission, which is why he took it upon himself to do so), Selphie, Zell, Squall, Quistis and Rinoa head for the relative safety of the nearest Garden - Galbadia.
On the train Zell is very depressed about letting slip about them being from Garden. Just after they've got off the train from Timber to Galbadia, Squall and two of the others have another strange dream. Once again taking on the characters of Laguna, Kiros and Ward, they find themselves in an underground excavation site at Centra. They battle their way through the site, hotly pursued by Estharian soldiers, and finally emerge on a cliff top. Attacked yet again and with no means of escape, they all plunge over the cliff.
Squall and co. wake up in the forest, and continue to make their way to Galbadia Garden, where they meet Raijin and Fujin, who have brought new orders from Cid at Balamb. The headmaster of Galbadia Garden, Martine, reassures Squall of Galbadia's support, and introduces the group to Irvine Kinneas, reputedly the best sniper of all three Gardens. Their orders are to assassinate the sorceress in Deling City.
Irvine promptly starts chatting up each girl in turn, with little success. Zell is distinctly snarky with him, and Quistis tells him off. Squall broods.
On their arrival at Galbadia they report to General Caraway's Mansion as requested, via a quick quest to the nearby Tomb of the Unknown King to collect an item which proves their identity. Once this mission's accomplished, they meet with General Caraway, who explains how the assassination will proceed, under the cover of a grand procession in the sorceress' honour. It also transpires that Rinoa is Caraway's rebellious daughter, and he attempts to lock her in the house for her own safety - but she manages to escape, leaving Selphie, Zell and Quistis locked in instead!
Squall and Irivne head off for the clock tower from where Irvine will shoot the sorceress; Selphie, Zell and Quistis make their escape and head for the rendezvous point via the sewers, and Rinoa decides to take on the sorceress herself. Unfortunately she's nowhere near strong enough and the sorceress, Edea, easily captures her and appears to take control of her body.
Irvine, who is watching from the crowd with Squall, spots Rinoa and insists they try to save her. They manage to reach her and save her; she tells Squall how scared she was and he takes care of her. Then he accompanies Irvine to the clock tower, where Irvine suddenly gets very nervous and withdrawn. Squall does his best to help him, and finally persuades the reluctant sniper to take his shot.
Edea deflects the bullet easily, however, and they are forced to attack head-on - and it's not just Edea they're up against, but Seifer, who has become her champion.
During the battle Edea hurls a handful of magical ice blades at Squall, catching him cleanly through the chest. He falls backwards, as a horrified Rinoa reaches out helplessly for him...
[to be continued]