There’s a saying that suggests that the best villains are the ones who, if you change the circumstances or story slightly, could have been the heroes. Back when Final Fantasy VIII was shiny and new in 1999, it might have been easy to look at Seifer Almasy, one of the antagonists, and see him as a jerk. I was in high school at the time and never thought too deeply about who he was or why he was doing what he was doing. But now, with Final Fantasy VIII Remastered, it’s a new opportunity to better appreciate a villain who could very easily have been a hero and often engages in some positive behaviors.
Both Squall and Seifer have similar starts as Final Fantasy VIII Remastered begins. The two are on the cusp of an exam that could result in them graduating and becoming SeeDs, full time soldiers for Balamb Garden. Each one is described by the people around them as exceptionally talented. They are the only two gunblade users at the academy. Both have distinctive personality issues that keep them from easily connecting with others. But, if you consider their backstories, Seifer almost comes across as the more heroic of the two.
Seifer is a part of the Balamb Garden Disciplinary Committee. He works with two other students, who are established as close friends of his, to maintain order and enforce the academy’s rules. This isn’t some self-imposed title. They’re recognized by the actual school, to the point where its official website condones and mentions their activities. Even though he is clearly an immature individual and has his issues, he’s been trusted with a position of power. It’s a rather heroic trait. Especially since he is also named as leader of the group he, Squall and Zell are a part of during the SeeD exam.
There is also a situation where we know of Seifer displaying a practical and perhaps even charitable display of skills he had learned. Rinoa knows about Balamb Garden and SeeDs because a year prior to the events of the game, Seifer was in Timber helping the Forest Owls fight against Galbadian forces. He actually did good there, helping the resistance learn how to handle the enemy. Rinoa even called him “inspiring.” He purposely put himself in a situation where he could do good.
What about the negative behaviors Seifer does exhibit? We see him and Squall fighting in the opening cutscene. It’s framed as a serious duel, especially since both leave permanent scars on the other. But, later, it is established as something of a training exercise between oil-and-water opposites. He does get carried away and fights dirty. But, for context there, we have to consider that all of the students at Balamb Garden are child soldiers. He is 18. It is established that some of these students were orphans, going straight from an orphanage to the school. The school benefits and makes money off of sending them into deadly situations.
Growing up, who were Seifer’s role models? It is established that he looked up to sorceress knights in literature, even borrowing a book with that sort of topic from Balamb Garden’s library, and chose the gunblade as his weapon after seeing a movie Laguna was in. Between that and likely seeing upperclassmen heading off to battle, all he grew up knowing was false bravado and putting on a show.
Some of his negative actions could even be considered positive if performed by other characters. While on the mission in Dollet, he goes against orders and moves to take the communications tower after seeing Galbadian forces heading up there. If any other character took that kind of initiative, leading his team to attack and take a strategic point, they would be praised. Instead, he is chastised and doesn’t pass the test.
Seifer even shows concern for his fellow students, even though he can be abrasive and antagonistic. When he is taking the test with Squall and Zell, he shows them a measure of respect and acknowledges Squall’s skills. When Squall, Selphie and Zell pass the test, he leads the round of applause for them and isn’t a sore loser. How did Seifer end up brainwashed and acting as Edea’s knight? When Balamb Garden sent Squall and his group to aid the Forest Owls, he forcefully leaves and heads to Timber to help them. His good intentions led to him becoming a villain.
If someone doesn’t look closely and think about Seifer’s actions, they could see him as a blustering blowhard who bullies his fellow students and has a superiority complex. But, there are lots of examples in the game showing how he displays heroic qualities. Also, we’re shown the extenuating circumstances in which both he and Squall grew up. While he turned out to be the bad guy, sometimes he doesn’t always seem like such a bad guy.