Fire Cavern & Triple Triad Playing - FF8 Guide
At the top of every page of my Final Fantasy 8 Walkthrough I will have a list of the most important GF Abilities for you to learn as well as my personal preference for who to junction GFs to for this part of the story. The game's auto order for GFs learning abilities is extremely terrible so it's strongly recommended you interfere and do the abilities in the order I provide here.
Throughout the game you can also refine Cards into Items and then those Items into magic. I've provided a list of the refinements that you can do for the cards that you will most likely have in your possession at this time during the story below as well. This same information will be provided at the top of every page during the full walkthrough, keep checking it as it'll change as the story progresses.
GF Abilities to Learn:
Quezacotl: Card, Card Mod, T Mag-RF, Mid Mag-RF, Boost, Vit-J, Elem-Def-J, Elem-Defx2, Mag+20%, Mag+40%, Mag Bonus
Shiva: I Mag-RF, Str-J, Elem-Atk-J, Elem-Def-J, Elem-Defx2, Vit-J, Spr+20%, Spr+40%, Spr Bonus, Boost
Ifrit: F Mag-RF, Str+20%, Str+40%, Str Bonus, HP-J, Str-J, Ammo-RF, Elem-Atk-J, Elem-Def-J, Mad Rush, Boost
Squall: Quezacotl, Ifrit
Our first stop after leaving Balamb Garden is the Fire Cavern which is on the northeastern end of the island, shown in the screenshot above. At the entrance of the Fire Cavern you'll find two people from the Garden that you'll have to speak with, they'll ask you to choose a time limit.
It's highly recommended that you choose 10 minutes as any longer will decrease the amount of SeeD experience you get for this test. Inside the Fire Cavern you'll want to follow the linear path to Ifrit (pictured below) who is the first boss of Final Fantasy 8.
He's a piece of cake even with the timer - so don't sweat it. Your reward for defeating him will be the Ifrit GF as well as the Ifrit Card.
You now have two options available to you... The first of which is to go back to Balamb Garden and get on with the game's story. The second option is to do a little bit of grinding and a TON of Triple Triad Card playing so that you can get better magic and more powerful Junctions very early on in the game.
For those of you playing on the Playstation 1, without the Steam Magic Booster, you'll definitely want to do some of the things mentioned below - otherwise you'll be a total gimp. How far you'd like to take this grinding early on in the game is entirely up to you.... You can end up making your characters so powerful that no enemies stand a chance against you until later on during Disc 2.
The best place to grind at this point of the game is on the beach just north of Balamb Garden and next to Balamb Town (pictured below). Here you'll find Fastitocalon-F enemies which give 6 AP per battle. If you want to keep your levels low (which is highly recommended since in this game enemies level with you) use Card to defeat enemies for right now.
Card is an ability that you will want to teach to Quezacotl very early on, it allows you to transform enemies into Triple Triad Cards. You'll get full AP and loot for the battle but no EXP when you do this. In order to Card an enemy you'll need to first lower them to about 3/4 health, then Card will work on them.
Note: Another reason it's recommended you keep your levels low is because later on your will get abilities like Str Bonus, Spr Bonus, Vit Bonus, that will increase your stats when you level up. You'll want to save leveling up for when you have these abilities available.
After you've grinded a hundred or so AP and got most of the initially useful abilities you will want to go into the forested areas south of the beach. Here you will have a moderate chance of encountering a T-rexaur enemy which will be challenging for you at your lower levels... but you can manage.
Card at least 3 or 4 T-rexaur enemies, we're going to need their cards to make up our initial Triple Triad hand... The cards we have now are too terrible to do us any good in an actual game of Triple Triad. All in all I would recommend spending an hour or so grinding on the beach followed by 30 minutes collecting the cards you need from the T-rexaur enemies.
When you have all of the T-Rexaur Cards that we need there's one last thing to do before we start grinding Triple Triad... Head to Balamb Town and over to the Queen of Cards (pictured below). What you're going to want to do here is challenge the Queen of Cards to a game of Triple Triad and back out at the Rule screen (pictured below).
Do this as many times as it takes until you see "Trade Rule: All". When you see this stop challenging the Queen and instead challenge someone else to a game of cards to check their Trade Rule. The train conductor behind the Queen of Cards is someone who works great for this. If their Trade Rule isn't All then try challenging them again.
Sometimes the Queen's rule change doesn't "stick" the first time. Chances are though after challenging him a second time he will have "Trade Rule: All" which is all we have to do here. Don't challenge the Queen of Cards again since that will change her Trade Rule. If the train conductor doesn't have the "All" rule after challenging him twice, then go back to challenging the Queen of Cards until she displays All again. Then repeat checking the train conductor.
If you'd like more details about this process and what we're doing check out my Queen of Cards Trade Rule page. Also if you'd like some future reading I recommend checking out my Triple Triad Rule Changing Guide. This Card Game plays a major role in FF8 and ignoring it completely is not a good idea.
Note: Many guides tell you to use Diff instead of All but they're all wrong and I am not the only person that has figured this out. Diff only gives you a few cards while All gives you All cards, just give me a little bit of trust and go with All - you won't regret it.
Note: Sometimes when you challenge someone in the same region as the Queen of Cards their Trade Rule will be One instead. This is called degeneration and is easily avoided by challenging them until the Trade Rule goes back to All. Many guides online say that the Trade Rule degenerates to Direct but they're wrong, it always degenerates to One and so long as the Queen of Cards is in your region you can always switch it back to All within a game or two. This is the whole purpose of exploiting her being in the region. ((This may go over some of your heads in which case I do apologize. I'm putting this here for veteran players doubting my methods, offering them an explanation so they don't go back to the terrible mistake of using Diff instead of All because of inaccurate information)).
Once you've got the Trade Rule set to All for this region you're free to play as much Triple Triad as you want. Save often because if you lose a single game you're going to lose your whole hand of cards.... Which is no good. The reason you want to play Triple Triad so much at this stage of the game isn't for fun but because the rewards you can get are insanely powerful and extremely beneficial.
Playing a single hour of Triple Triad at this stage will net you powerful magic that you will use as a Junction until late during Disc 3. You'll also get most of the Blue Magic limit breaks for Quistis during this time. For a list of all available Card Mod and Magic Refinements follow the link below.
Keep in mind too that you're not limited to just Balamb Town - you can return to Balamb Garden and play cards there too.. In fact I highly recommend you do that. When you enter Balamb Garden Quistis will leave you though - this doesn't matter all that much, even if you still have some grinding to do. Just make sure you take the GF Junction to Quistis off her and put it on Squall if you decide to grind.
If you're having trouble winning your first few Triple Triad matches that's pretty normal and it probably has something to do with the person you're trying to play. It'll take a couple dozen Triple Triad games until you have cards much better than T-Rexaurs which will let you easily win most matches.
Here is a list of some card players and which level cards they play. When you're first starting out only challenge Level 4 people, once you've gotten a few better cards than T-Rexaurs then you can start challenging Level 5 Card Players.
Level 1 Card Players: Almost everyone in the garden plays some level 1 cards
Level 2 Card Players: Almost everyone in the garden plays some level 2 cards
Level 3 Card Players: Almost everyone in the garden plays some level 3 cards
Level 4 Card Players: Trepe Groupie #3, Cafeteria Lady, All students in library except girl in pigtails
Level 5 Card Players: Gatekeeper, Trepe Groupies, Cafeteria Lady, Male wearing blue in library and girl in library reading area
Usually I do most of my Triple Triad playing inside of the Library. A few of the people in here (such as the girl in the reading area) play Level 1 - 5 cards which means you have better RNG of beating them. If they get a hand with 3 crap cards and 2 good ones, it's likely you'll win and take the good cards.
While in the Balamb Garden Library you can also speak with the Conceited SeeD here for Zell's Love Quest. Much like the previous time I mentioned this, there are no rewards and it's completely optional. Also, there are two Rare Cards that you can collect at this time in Balamb Garden, both of which are mentioned below.
Currently available Rare Cards:
Don't Card Mod any of these Rare Cards for the time being, we need them to more easily win Triple Triad games. I'll tell you when to Card Mod cards and which ones to Mod, there are some that are insanely good to Card Mod early on, like Zell's Card.
When you are finally ready to proceed with the story you'll want to go to the Dormitory (northern portion of 1F) and get changed/rest. Once you do this you're not going to want to speak with anyone or you'll get a lower SeeD ranking (and less SeeD experience). SeeD Ranking dictates your ingame salary, for more information on it follow the link.
Note: The most important magic you can get right now is Tornado for Squall. Junction it to his Strength stat and it will make a huge difference for upcoming battles. You can get Tornado by using T Mag-RF on Windmill Items. Windmill Items are Card Moded from Abyss Worm Cards