From left, Tetsuya Nomura's designs of Selphie, Rinoa and Quistis
Squall Leonhart (スコール・レオンハート Sukōru Reonhāto) is the main protagonist of Final Fantasy VIII. He is a young student at Balamb Garden who is identifiable by the scar on his face that a fellow student, Seifer, inflicted. He rarely speaks and has the reputation of being a lone wolf. As Squall's story unfolds, he becomes fascinated with and falls in love with Rinoa, despite never outwardly expressing such until the ending. Squall is characterized by forlorn memories of standing out in the rain at the orphanage where he grew up, wondering where "Sis" went. Squall's weapon is a gunblade, a sword that uses components of a revolver to send vibrations through the blade when triggered. His Limit Break is a series of sword strikes called Renzokuken.
Rinoa Heartilly (リノア・ハーティリー Rinoa Hātirī) is the primary female protagonist of Final Fantasy VIII. She is the 17-year-old daughter of General Caraway, a high-ranking officer in the Galbadian army, and Julia Heartilly, a successful pianist and singer. Rinoa is a member of the Forest Owls, a resistance faction seeking to liberate the small nation of Timber from Galbadian occupation. When Squall and his party of SeeD help the resistance movement fight Galbadia, Rinoa decides to stay with them; as a result she ends up falling in love with Squall. She has black hair with brown highlights and dark eyes. Outspoken, spirited, emotional, and honest with her feelings, she speaks her mind without reservation. Because of her ambition, she can often be stubborn. The year before the game begins, she dated Squall's long-standing rival Seifer Almasy.
Rinoa first meets Squall at the SeeD inauguration ball at Balamb Garden. During the dance, she manages to charm the usually antisocial Squall into dancing with her. Her purpose for visiting the Garden is revealed when the Forest Owls hire Squall, Zell Dincht, and Selphie Tilmitt as mercenaries. Later, Rinoa is possessed by Ultimecia when she loses her influence over Sorceress Edea, which causes Rinoa to fall into a coma-like state. Consequently, Squall tries desperately to revive her, eventually traveling to the country of Esthar. However, Ultimecia manages to use Rinoa to release Sorceress Adel from her orbital prison. After Rinoa's use expires, Ultimecia possesses Adel and leaves Rinoa to die in space. Squall rescues her, and the two attempt to share a personal moment on the Ragnarok spaceship while the game's theme song, "Eyes On Me", plays in the background. During the game's ending, she reunites with Squall, and kisses him for the first time on the Balamb Garden balcony.
In battle, she uses a weapon called a "Blaster Edge", which consists of an arm holster and a projectile that returns like a boomerang. In her Combine Limit Break, she attacks in unison with her dog, Angelo. When Rinoa gains Sorceress powers, she acquires a second Limit Break, Angel Wing, which increases her spell-casting ability, along with rendering her in a state of "magic" berserk for the remainder of the battle.
Character artist Tetsuya Nomura found Rinoa the hardest character to design in Final Fantasy VIII. Nomura emphasized that he tried to avoid letting the possibilities presented by the recent advancements in full motion video technology become the entire focus, believing that these innovations might tempt developers to make their female characters "too beautiful" and focus more on physical appearance than personality. With this in mind, Nomura tried to make her "cute, not gorgeous". To further emphasize this, he wrote a list of vocabulary traits and physical habits for Rinoa's character that he felt conveyed this idea, and sent them to Kazushige Nojima along with the character's design.
In addition to Final Fantasy VIII, Rinoa appears in a PlayStation 2 technology demo recreating the pre-rendered music video cutscene sequence from the game in real-time. She also appears in the 2004 board video game Itadaki Street Special and the 2012 rhythm video game Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, and she appeared in the 2012 puzzle role-playing video game Puzzle & Dragons as part of the Final Fantasy collaboration. Her outfits are available in the video games Gunslinger Stratos 2 and Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, and three of Rinoa's weapon (the Valkyrie, Cardinal and Shooting Star) are Ultimecia's exclusive weapons in Dissidia Final Fantasy.
Rinoa appears as a playable character in Dissidia Final Fantasy NT, voiced by Kana Hanazawa in Japanese and Skyler Davenport in English.
Laguna Loire (ラグナ・レウァール Raguna Rewāru) is a man whose past and relation to the main characters are revealed slowly throughout the game. Most of the sequences involving Laguna appear in the form of "dreams" experienced by the primary protagonists. Squall always experiences these dreams from Laguna's point of view, although he does not think too highly of Laguna. Laguna attacks with a Machine gun and his Limit Break is Desperado, which involves a swinging rope, a grenade, and a barrage of bullets. During the dream segments, he is a twenty-seven-year-old soldier in the Galbadian army who travels with his companions, Kiros Seagill and Ward Zabac. He is also an aspiring journalist.
During the first two dream segments, Laguna and his team are shown getting lost and visiting the hotel where singer Julia Heartilly, Laguna's romantic interest, performs. After a scouting mission at Centra, the three soldiers are separated and Laguna is injured. A young woman named Raine nurses him back to health after he is brought to Winhill. He falls in love with and marries her. However, he is drawn away from his new home when a young girl in their care, Ellone, is kidnapped. Laguna tracks her down in Esthar, where he helps liberate the nation from the despotic rule of Sorceress Adel. The people of Esthar elect Laguna as their president and Ellone is sent back to Winhill without him. After Raine dies, her child (whom Ward and Kiros imply to be Squall in a conversation aboard the Ragnarok) and Ellone are sent to an orphanage. Laguna is unable to leave his post to visit her and remains president of Esthar to the present day. Ellone and Laguna are reunited in space, and Laguna helps the party prepare for their fight against Ultimecia.
The concept of two main characters was planned since the beginning of the game's development. Nomura tried to create a contrast between Laguna's and Squall's occupations; thus, Laguna became a soldier with a light-hearted charisma, and Squall became a reserved mercenary student. The designers intended Laguna to be more similar to the previous protagonists in the series to complement Squall, who is different from previous main characters. Laguna is ranked seventh in Electronic Gaming Monthly's list of the top ten video game politicians.
Laguna Loire appears in Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy, where he is voiced by Hiroaki Hirata in the Japanese version and Armando Valdes-Kennedy in the English version. He is featured in his youthful Final Fantasy VIII appearance while his older and his Galbadian soldier forms. His costume of a knight is also available as downloadble content. Laguna was also planned to appear in Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep as the head of Mirage Arena.
Seifer Almasy (サイファー・アルマシー Saifā Arumashī) is a classmate and rival of Squall, who can only be controlled by the player during the Dollet sequence. He reappears as a boss later in the game. He acts as a foil to Squall in many respects, having dated Rinoa before she met Squall, and assuming a leadership position among his friends. Like Squall, Seifer wields a gunblade which he calls "Hyperion". His Limit Break, Fire Cross, allows him to use an attack called No Mercy. He later uses the more powerful techniques Demon Slice and Bloodfest against the player. Seifer has a short temper and is often depicted as a bully who desires attention. He is also fiercely independent and is often punished for his recklessness. He is the leader of Balamb Garden's disciplinary committee with his friends Fujin and Raijin. After joining Ultimecia, he becomes the leader of the Galbadian army.
During the introduction sequence, Seifer cuts Squall across the left side of his face with his gunblade, leaving a scar. Squall retaliates with a backhand slash that leaves Seifer with a mirrored scar. At the following field exam in Dollet, Seifer acts independently from his teammates Squall and Zell, abandoning them; consequently, he fails and is not promoted to SeeD. Spurred by dreams of a brighter future, he defects to Sorceress Edea so he could be her "knight". From his point of view, Squall and the others are "evil" and he recognizes himself as a hero. As Seifer is brainwashed by the sorceress, he alienates himself from his friends. Eventually, Fujin and Raijin abandon him and he is defeated shortly afterward. Following Edea's defeat, the party confronts Seifer one last time as he now serves Ultimecia, and either they or Gilgamesh defeat him. Seifer escapes, kidnapping Rinoa and bringing her to Adel. At the end of the game, Seifer is seen fishing and having fun with Fujin and Raijin.
Nomura had originally intended Seifer not only as Squall's rival, but also as part of the love triangle between him, Squall, and Rinoa. Although this concept was shelved in the final script, Seifer remains Squall's rival and his appearance was designed to contrast with Squall's. They have equivalent but mirrored scars on their faces and their jackets are of opposing color and length. Both characters use gunblades; Squall's gunblade is larger and requires two hands, while Seifer's gunblade is lighter and can be wielded with one hand. A younger version of Seifer makes an appearance in Kingdom Hearts II as a member of the Twilight Town Disciplinary Committee with Fujin and Raijin. Seifer in the virtual Twilight Town is a rival of the main character, Roxas, and at one point mentions that he does not wish to cooperate with destiny. He is voiced by Takehito Koyasu and Will Friedle in the Japanese and English versions, respectively. He is also featured in the rhythm game Theatrhythm Final Fantasy as a subcharacter representing Final Fantasy VIII.
The book "Converging Traditions in the Digital Moving Image: Architectures of Illusion, Images of Truth" discusses that while Seifer is seen as a show-off and a troublemaker, protagonist Squall Leonhart identifies with him. IGN listed Seifer as the 91st best video game villain, stating that he makes for a great rival due to the similarities between him and Squall.
Quistis Trepe (キスティス・トゥリープ Kisutisu Turīpu) is an eighteen-year-old instructor at Balamb Garden, where Squall, Zell, and Seifer are students. She uses a chain whip in battle, and her Limit Break, Blue Magic, a common ability found throughout the Final Fantasy games, allows her to imitate monsters' attacks. Early in the game, Quistis is discharged as an instructor because she "[lacks] leadership qualities". Afterwards, she maintains a more informal relationship with the other characters as a fellow member of SeeD.
As a child, Quistis stayed at an orphanage with most of the main characters. She then lived with foster parents, with whom she never developed any intimacy, before moving to Balamb Garden at age ten. She became a SeeD at fifteen and an instructor two years later. By this time, she has become very popular, having a number of fans who identify themselves as "Trepies". For her part, Quistis never shows any indication of being aware of their existence. Quistis initially joins Squall to prepare him for his upcoming field exam. She later takes Squall into her confidence and tells him personally about her demotion. Squall rudely tells her to go "talk to a wall", a famous comical line in the game, and not to burden him with her problems. This furthers the player's perception of Squall's awkwardness and anti-social tendencies. When Irvine refreshes the main characters' memories about the orphanage, they remember that Squall's asocial behavior began when Ellone, an older sister figure to Squall, left the orphanage unexpectedly. As a result of these revelations, Quistis recognizes that her feelings for Squall are more sisterly than romantic. Later, she criticizes Squall when he nearly abandons Rinoa, his romantic interest.
When designing the characters, Nomura had wanted at least one female character to wear a skirt. Quistis was originally supposed to fill this part, but Nomura decided a long skirt worn over pants would look better. The role was eventually passed to Selphie. Nomura was surprised when the writers cast her as a teacher, despite being around the same age as the rest of the group.
Quistis also appears in World of Final Fantasy where she is voiced by Miyuki Sawashiro in Japanese and Kristina Pesic in English.
Selphie Tilmitt (セルフィ・ティルミット Serufi Tirumitto) is a student at Balamb Garden who recently transferred from Trabia Garden. She is active and energetic, although slightly clumsy. She participates in many extracurricular activities, such as planning the Garden Festival and running the school's website. She wields nunchaku in battle, and her Limit Break Slot allows the player to cast a random spell numerous times as well as certain magic used exclusively in her limit break. In addition to battle, she pilots the Ragnarok starship.
Selphie first appears when running into Squall while late for class. She asks Squall to show her around because she recently transferred. During the Dollet exam, Selphie joins Squall's team after Seifer abandons them. She becomes a SeeD with Squall and Zell, and the three are assigned to the same team. When Galbadia launches missiles at Trabia Garden, she reacts with outrage and helps destroy the missile base. Throughout the game, she revisits her childhood closeness with Irvine, who serves as her copilot on the Ragnarok.
Selphie was the second character that Nomura drew, after Squall, intentionally giving her an impractical hairstyle. When he first designed Selphie, Nomura drew her in overalls; however, he realized that none of the characters would be wearing a skirt. In the end, he gave Selphie a mini-skirt and let Quistis have pants. In the Kingdom Hearts series, Nomura included a younger version of Selphie as a resident of Destiny Islands, and uses a jump rope instead of nunchaku. She is voiced by Mayuko Aoki in the Japanese version, and by Molly Marlette in the English version.
Zell Dincht (ゼル・ディン Zeru Din) is a student at Balamb Garden with Squall and Seifer. Seventeen years old, Zell is a martial artist who fits the role of unarmed character, just like Tifa Lockhart did in the previous game, Final Fantasy VII. Zell attacks with punches and kicks, his weapons being gloves, and his Limit Break, Duel, requires the player to input button combinations on the controller to deal damage. Zell is slightly impulsive and overconfident in his own skill; however, he is loyal to his friends. Seifer gives him the nickname "chicken-wuss", which infuriates him. He also has a passion for hot dogs; a recurring gag is that they are always sold out by the time he reaches the cafeteria.
Zell lived at the same orphanage as many of the other protagonists; this is where Seifer first began to bully him. He was later adopted by the Dincht family in the town of Balamb. His motivation for enrolling at Garden is to live up to the memory of his grandfather, a famous soldier.
Zell was designed to look and act like the main character of a shōnen manga (Japanese comic books intended primarily for boys); his neighbors in Balamb describe him as a "'comic-bookish' type of hero". He also thinks of himself as Seifer's rival, despite not being the main character. The inspiration for the tattoo on his face came from an MTV music video that featured a man with a full body tattoo.
Zell's ultimate weapon is named Ehrgeiz, directly referencing the game of the same name which came out around the same time Final Fantasy VIII did. Also, continuing the similarities to Tifa Lockhart of Final Fantasy VII, Zell has a limit break called Dolphin Blow as does Tifa, Zell's final limit break is My Final Heaven, while Tifa's was called just Final Heaven.
He is voiced by Noriaki Sugiyama in Japanese.
Irvine Kinneas (アーヴァイン・キニアス Āvain Kiniasu) is a student at Galbadia Garden, one of the three mercenary academies in the game. He is one of the Garden's elite sharpshooters, always carrying his rifle. His Limit Break is Shot, which deals damage and inflicts status effects depending on the type of ammunition. Irvine is depicted as a cowboy, tall and fair-skinned with long brown hair that he wears pulled back in a ponytail. He also enjoys flirting with the female characters, being known as well for his marksmanship as his charm. He acts like a carefree, but misunderstood loner; however, this is merely a façade to charm women and hide his lack of confidence.
When Sorceress Edea becomes the Galbadian ambassador, Balamb and Galbadia Gardens order Squall's team to assassinate her; Irvine is introduced as the sniper for the mission. Moments before the assassination attempt, he explains to Squall that he always chokes under pressure. In spite of his nerves and under intense pressure, he fires an accurate shot, but Edea uses magic to stop the bullet. At Trabia Garden, Irvine reveals that he and most of the other party members had lived in the same orphanage, run by Cid and Edea Kramer. However, the others could not remember this because of their use of Guardian Forces (GF), magical beings who cause severe long-term memory loss as a side effect. Because Irvine had not used a GF until he joined the party, he is able to remember his past. During the game, Irvine gradually draws closer to Selphie, acting on the feeling he has had since living with her at the orphanage.
With Irvine, Nomura tried to strike a balance between not overshadowing Squall and not becoming too unattractive. He gave Irvine a handsome appearance, but a casual personality, hoping that this would make him less attractive than Squall. Keeping with this idea, Nomura gave him goggles; however, this idea was abandoned in favor of an American cowboy-like appearance to set him apart from other goggle-wearing characters in the Final Fantasy series.
He is voiced by Daisuke Hirakawa in Japanese.
Kiros Seagill (キロス・シーゲル Kirosu Shīgeru) is one of Laguna's comrades in the Galbadian Army. He wields a pair of katar (कटार) or gauntlet-daggers, with which he repeatedly slices his enemies in his Limit Break, Blood Pain. His weapons' name is given as "katal" in the English localization of the game. Following the failed mission in Centra, Kiros is separated from Laguna and Ward. He heals quickly and decides to leave the Galbadian army, but soon finds that life without Laguna lacks excitement. His subsequent search for Laguna brings him to Winhill after nearly a year. When Laguna is forced to leave Winhill to find Ellone, Kiros accompanies him, helping him earn money as an amateur actor to fund the expedition. Kiros remains by Laguna's side throughout his adventures in Esthar, earning a place as Laguna's advisor when he becomes president. Like Ward, Kiros' interactions with Laguna are based on the staff's interactions during development.
Ward Zabac (ウォード・ザバック Wōdo Zabakku) is Laguna's other comrade. An imposing man, he wields a large harpoon in battle; in his Limit Break, Massive Anchor, he uses it to crush his opponents from above. During the incident at Centra, he loses his voice in a battle with Esthar soldiers. After being separated from Laguna and Kiros, he becomes a janitor at the D-District Prison. When Laguna becomes president of Esthar, Ward joins Kiros as an advisor, directing affairs with gestures and ellipses. Laguna and Kiros can understand what he is saying by his reactions. Like Kiros, Ward's interactions with Laguna are based on the staff's interactions during development.
Edea Kramer (イデア・クレイマー Idea Kureimā) is initially presented as a power-hungry sorceress who seizes control of Galbadia from President Deling. Her motives are unknown, but SeeD dispatches Squall to assassinate her. The mission fails after Rinoa is taken over by an unknown entity and Edea sends a bolt of ice through Squall's chest.
Later, it is revealed that Edea is actually the wife of Headmaster Cid, and was known as "Matron" to Squall and the other kids that lived at the orphanage. It is eventually explained that Edea was not acting of her own will, but was possessed by a sorceress from the future named Ultimecia. When Ultimecia's control is broken, Edea takes the side of the SeeDs in the struggle and joins Squall's party for a short time. However, she accidentally gives her powers to Rinoa, making her a sorceress. Being a sorceress, Edea attacks with magical bursts of energy and her Limit Break, Ice Strike, consists of a magically conjured icicle, hurled like a javelin.
Edea is one of three character concepts, along with Fujin and Raijin, to have been created before Final Fantasy VIII. Tetsuya Nomura had designed Edea even before the development of Final Fantasy VII, based on the style of Yoshitaka Amano, who was the character illustrator of Final Fantasy VI and previous games. Edea's design is used in Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy as an alternate costume of Ultimecia's. Although she has not appeared in Final Fantasy spin off games, her namesake has been carried into the Bravely Default series with Edea Lee.