An interview with the guy who made a Final Fantasy 8 fan site in 2024

The best new website of 2024 might be, against all odds, a Final Fantasy 8 fan site.

Yeah, that’s right: Screw your fancy new PS5 Final Fantasies — devout Final Fantasy 8 fan Phil Salvador decided to launch a website dedicated to what he views is the best Final Fantasy, one full of very funny articles and impassioned arguments.

In his day job, Salvador works as library director of the Video Game History Foundation, which means he is continually finding and cataloging old games publications and unusually aware of how games like Final Fantasy 8 were received, discussed, and promoted. That, coupled with his deep and abiding love for the game and a penchant for weird URLs (like, meant that Salvador had more than enough gas in the tank to fuel a whole website in his free time.

Recently, I met with Salvador over video chat to talk about his new site, which he still cannot believe has taken off to the point that he’s being interviewed about it.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Polygon: It’s wild this took off, right? You just showed up with a site and a post that says “Final Fantasy 8 fucking rules, eat my ass.”

Phil Salvador: Yeah, that post seemed to resonate with people. The reason I started it was just that I’ve been amused by all the various novelty domain names that have been sprouting up in the last couple of years now that there’s more endings you can use for URLs. I had developed sort of a reputation among friends and colleagues for being an aggressive defender of Final Fantasy 8 and thought it would be fun to make a place where I can dump my thoughts on it without it seeping into my other work.

I think what has really clicked with me about it and maybe the reason it’s clicking with other people is that there’s not really any point to it. I like the idea of having a website that’s not monetized and not feeding into some larger brand or social media accounts. It’s just a place where I write some stupid things once in a while and sometimes it’s smart and sometimes it’s not. And I miss that.

There’s a very early internet spirit to it, when people were out there just making websites. They had no dream of being found by people that didn’t already know about it. I definitely think people are responding to that.

Yeah, the response I’ve seen is that a lot of people want to also make something similar. People miss the period in your life when you could just be creative and make things for the hell of it. I think that’s something we all have as children and that kind of goes away as we get older and have to deal with responsibilities and paychecks.

Left to right: Seifer Almasy, Rinoa Heartilly, Squall Leonhart

Image: Square Enix

I love this blog because it’s a place where I can just write a post that says “eat my ass” and nobody can stop me. If people respond to that, that’s their problem. I hope there’s a critical reappraisal of Final Fantasy 8 in the near future, but I don’t expect that. This isn’t going to be the website to do it. It doesn’t have to be.

One of my favorite posts on the site, next to the incredible magazine gag you unearthed, is your essay on how we’re stuck in 2007, the year you argue an early YouTuber ranted about the game and helped push public consensus of FF8 from “universally beloved” to “divisive.”

Something we say at the Video Game History Foundation is that if you want to study a video game, having the game isn’t enough. We think you need to understand how it was played and understood. So with that article in particular, I thought it was really interesting going back through all the magazines any time one would come through that was in the range of when Final Fantasy 8 was getting reviewed. I would always flip through and see what the review said, and people were ecstatic about it!

I think a lot of these things we take for granted. We just attribute it to what was in the air at the time but if you look at what was happening in different places of gaming culture, you can see how that shift happens. You can see how ideas get established early on, and that’s what we’re trying to build. Our collection is around things that will help people understand what role video games have in culture and how it’s changed over time.

Yeah, your blog crystallized that shift for me in a way I hadn’t fully registered!

Yeah, I think especially in the print days when there were fewer people publishing opinions or perspectives, it was easier to reshape how people thought of stuff. One of the examples I love is that E.T. for the Atari 2600 got OK reviews when it came out. It wasn’t beloved but it was a game that got two stars in the same issue that something else got one star. What happened, though, is as people began to write the history of video games and interview former Atari employees, folks at Atari and around that area used E.T. and Pac-Man as scapegoats for what was happening within the industry.

It’s become pillaried and this sort of child of Omelas that we just heap our abuse on in order to explain the history of video games. I think it’s worth going back and understanding how people looked at it at different times because it’s never that cut and dry. We want an easy narrative and game history is never that easy.

Squall and Rinoa approach each other against a sunset for an embrace in this screenshot from Final Fantasy 8 Remastered

Image: Square Enix

One of the core messages I’m gonna be writing about in the blog is the idea that I think one of the reasons there’s been such a backlash to Final Fantasy 8 over the years is that it is a game that is about love and emotions and vulnerability. Early internet culture responded to the fact that Final Fantasy 8 is predominantly a love story by writing it off or saying it’s stupid. […] Now that we have such great diversity in who is expressing their opinions about this stuff, we have people who are more willing to embrace that.

Squall’s arc in that game is kind of mirroring the audience’s standoffish posture to an emotional love story at the time, right?

It’s about his character becoming vulnerable. Squall and Rinoa are both dealing with a lot of tragedy and loneliness in their life — Rinoa never really belonged to her family and has been kind of fighting against that and pushing people away from her, and Squall refuses to open himself up to people — and they find themselves and both mature by the end of the story. I don’t want to spoil the space scene with them, but people will know this scene; it is a beautiful expression of people literally finding each other.

You have a call to action kind of hidden away on the site for people to just do their own version of this type of site. Can you tell me a little more about that?

I love seeing people be weirdly creative online. I love unusual Twitch streams. I love people doing experimental things with YouTube. I love bold animation. I love anyone who’s trying to just do something because they can and I feel like the internet as a medium has fallen away as a venue for that. Obviously I came of age in the early 2000s and there were a lot of novelty websites. People making weird single-serving sites or places where they would put weird things. I think we’ve gotten used to the idea that the web is just a place you search to find information about something and not a venue for expression in the same way that an experimental Twitch stream might be.

I don’t think we need to revert back to our relationship with the web as it was in the ’90s, but I think that we can carve out a space for something like this. This site has been a fun experiment because I had absolutely no expectations for it. I was gonna write things on it for fun and send them to friends and bizarrely it’s caught on almost entirely through word of mouth. And that’s magical to me. I’ve tried Googling the site and maybe it’s because it’s new, but it doesn’t really show up in search and I don’t really care. The site exists. Eat my ass.

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