Review by Splatter

"Generally well done, yet lacking Plot and likeable characters"

Final Fantasy VIII

The eighth incarnation of the Final Fantasy series took some rather large risks from the very start. This was the first attempt Squaresoft gave at creating more realistic characters and scenery, combining them with extremely good FMV movies while lowering equipment options but raising stat strategy. These factors, combined with the theme of ‘love’ throughout the game and the general disdain most people have with the characters caused some uproar in the community, making FF8 the black sheep of the Final Fantasy series. This review will emphasize the specifics of the PC version and its benefits and disadvantages compared to the PSX version, yet will also discuss the various elements inherent in all FF8 incarnations.

PC Intrigues

Similarly to FF7 for the PC, FF8 is a carbon-copy of the game in terms of gameplay mechanics and storyline. You are basically getting the same game as you would play on the PSX, however there are added features which make the PC version superior to the PSX.

Most noticeable over the PSX version is the inclusion of the Chocobo World mini-game. In Japan, a device came out for the Playstation called the “Pocketstation”. This device allowed for connectivity between the PSX and itself, allowing it to download mini-games from the original disc. This game could then be played using the Pocketstation without being connected to the PSX, and whenever the user wanted, they could reattach it and give the PSX information, letting it unlock secrets or have it giving the player items etc.
The device never came out in North America, yet was relatively well used in Japan. Fortunately for us, the PC version includes the Chocobo World mini-game and all connectivity between CW and FF8 is simulated on the computer. The mini-game allows extremely rare items to be obtained through it, as well as gaining new summons and items that you can not get without it (or cheating with a Gameshark).
The game itself is very basic, where your Chocobo simply walks around the word, getting items, weapons and fighting enemies. Eventually, he can gain stars, which allow for better summoning in FF8 (including a 9999 damage attack). Although the game is so simple that there is an option to have it play itself, it’s also strangely addictive. I found myself half-playing it while browsing the web or doing other computer tasks.

A much-requested improvement over FF7 for the PC is the far superior FMV movie quality in the PC version of FF8 compared to that in FF7. The FMV for the PC in FF7 was really ugly, grainy and blocky at the same time. Now, even at full screen the movies in FF8 look great, and although I don’t have a technical comparison for proof, I can say without doubt that the movies on the PC version look at the very least as good as the PSX version, and are probably higher quality.

The graphics themselves are limited to two modes on the PC: 640x480 quarter screen and 640x480 full screen. I am still unsure why they limit the maximum resolution you can play the game at (since many graphics cards today could play this game at 1600x1200 res.), however I’m tempted to think that it’s because the PSX hardware is limited. Allowing for a huge increase in quality on the PC would make the PSX look like it had poor quality hardware, thus lowering Sony’s reputation.
Still, the general graphics in this game look less blocky and generally better than in the PSX version, with more Frames Per Second on what are now low-end computers compared to the PSX.

The music in this game is also in MIDI format, as was FF7’s, except for one song called “Eyes on me” which is CD-quality audio. A MIDI decoder is also included in this game, yet it is unable to work on most computers, since a Yamaha S-YXG50 SoftSynthesizer is needed to install it which does not come with the game. Personally, I highly suggest to anyone who owns PC versions of FF7 and FF8 to install the MIDI drivers on the FF7 installation CD and use them in FF8 through the configuration menu. I’m not surprised that a second high-quality MIDI decoder wasn’t provided for free this time around, as they probably realized what a deal we got last time :)

Controls can be used through the keyboard or using a gamepad. If you have a gamepad you wish to use, it is very simple to set up the controls – just go to the config menu and you can manually bind the buttons to what you want.

In general, the PC version is better than the PSX version, as the graphics are more clear, the movies look spectacular, the music sounds excellent with the FF7 MIDI decoder, and the Chocobo World mini-game is provided for free! If I had the choice between the PC and the PSX version, I would take the PC version without hesitation.

Now that we’ve gone through the specifics of the PC version, lets take a look at the game as a whole

Graphics: 9.5/10

The graphics in this game were amazing at the time it was created and still look very good today. I really wish that we could bump up the resolution for the polygonal characters, since they have jagged edges all around them, but until the community finds or makes a hack for them, we’ll have to stick to 640x480 res. Anti-Aliasing and Antroscopic Filtering work, but you’ll want to keep AA off, since this also totally blurs the backgrounds and menu bars as well (based on the way that the game was ported from the PSX to PC).

The summons (called Guardian Forces) look good, have an even larger feeling of power and scope than the summons in FF7. Effects as a whole just have a great ‘oomph’ quality.

Outside of battles, areas are more detailed and look better as a whole. Places seem more realistic, yet most static backgrounds that you’ll encounter are in city or man-made areas, so you won’t see much of nature in them.

Why 9.5 and not 10? Simply because having a maximum resolution of 640x480 resolution is quite simply crap. I must also say that I was also disappointed with the ‘final spell’ used by the boss of the game in FF8, compared to the one in FF7. In FF7 there is a huge feeling of impending doom and destruction of your poor characters, yet in FF8 it seems boring and generally not well done.

Sound: 8.5/10

Sound in this game was done rather well. We have vehicular sounds, gate creaking sounds, the ocean, birds, and every sound that occurs in the game feels like it fits. I would have preferred more sounds as a whole, but I’ll take what I get.

Music: 9/10

The music is very well done compared to other game series, but comparing the music here to the music in FF6 or 7 makes FF8 seem poor. After completing the game, no specific song stuck with me as interesting or memory invoking, which was a big change from 7’s songs which I can still remember years later. Still, the music is superbly done, and the CD quality song was a nice change of pace. Although I know I won’t be purchasing the FF8 soundtrack anytime soon, I can certainly see why someone would want to have it.

Gameplay: 7/10

The gameplay is rated above average, however not nearly as good as I’ve given to other games in the past. To put it bluntly – FFVIII is just too easy.

Although I didn’t like how there was no equipment to speak of, and that characters are generic in which GF’s and magics they use, the problem I have is that the Junctioning system of magic allowed for a very large amount of flexibility – in fact too much. In this system, you are able to junction magic to specific stats of your characters, such as Health or Speed. This allows for too many options, where there are multiple ways to become walking titans of destruction, annihilating everything in your path at will.

For example, a hilarious strategy that I used for much of the game was to junction strong healing magic to the HP slot, raising it as much as I could. I then kept the characters at a point of health in ‘yellow’, meaning that the game considered my health low, yet it was still more than enough to last multiple enemy attacks. Since the characters health was in ‘yellow’, they could use their Limit Break attacks whenever they wanted, and these attacks do incredible damage.

This is one of the many strategies which makes the game just too easy. Although some will say that one could make the game harder by not using such strategies, many people enjoy attempting to outwit the game to become more powerful than normal, and there is no challenge of that in FFVIII.

Story: 4/10

OUCH! To rate the story of any RPG at 4/10 is shocking enough, but a Final Fantasy game? Although I wish it weren’t true, I strongly disliked this storyline and the characters involved.

I think the main problem with this game is that a lot of people just hated the characters (like me)

Spoilers ahead, SKIP IF YOU HAVEN’T COMPLETED THE GAME

Squall = lonely, introverted tough guy who's haunted by his past. I found him to be AMAZINGLY stupid, and even at the end of the game he STILL can't even control his thoughts and meet Rinoa. Rinoa has to find him, because he can't even understand where (or should I say when) to meet her. The only point in the entire game that I thought his character might have possibly developed at all (I don’t believe Squall ever learned anything when 'falling in love' - read as 'PG-rated lust') is at the very end of the last FMV, where Squall has a smile on his face and goes to kiss Rinoa.

Selphie = ditzyest ditz to ever ditz in any game created by mankind. ''I like trains''. You sure do girl.

However, she somehow survived multiple missile blasts on her brain (a technical marvel, believe me) and came out unscathed. Maybe she is a space alien with the ability to instantly transport from one location to another and back again using her incredible brainpower.

Zell = ADHD hyper boxing child with the IQ of a raisin. After he is captured and locked in a cell, it takes him a few hours to realize that his fists are his weapons, and that the enemy can’t steal his fists from him. All that hard work training for 18 years really paid off eh?

Quisitis = most likeable character in the game. She has ambitions, dreams, doesn't currently have the ability to reach them but is trying to. She tries to help Squall sort things out, while helping herself as well.

Seifer = angry, impressionable and misguided youth. He doesn't commit to anything and tries to float by on life. His persona makes him try a 'get rich quick' scheme by siding with the Ultimencia.

Irvine = Sexually Harassing character who acts tough but actually has no guts when it comes down to the moment. He provides some comical relief, but doesn’t grow.

Rinoa = Not as ditzy as Quisitis, but her rich-upbringing makes her seem like one of those protesters who protest the cutting of the Amazon by making cardboard signs… Although I don’t hate this character, there is nothing I like about her.

Headmaster Cid = The worst leader ever conceived. He hides when trouble comes, gives full leadership responsibilities to a new SeeD recruit, and places his own selfish wants over the needs of others.

Laguna = A klutz who somehow (God only knows) becomes the leader of the most technologically powerful empire in the world. Any attempt to convince me that the people of this sophisticated culture would place Laguna in charge, regardless of what he may have done for them, would be ludicrous. His actions makes one of his best friends mute, yet he shows no remorse.

End of spoilers

The story itself is poorly written, and things happen far too quickly at the end of the game. Although I thought Disc 2 was one of the best parts of any Final Fantasy, this does not justify Discs 3 and 4 where logic goes out the window, character development is poorly done, and things happen far too quickly.

Perhaps I would have enjoyed the game more if the characters were better developed, however, I simply didn’t care what happened to them, and that significantly decreased my grade of the Story.

Bugs

Some people will tell you the graphics are buggy and look horrible. These people have not downloaded the appropriate update patches for the game. The game has been out for 3 years now, and a less than 10 meg patch is needed to keep up with today’s newer graphics cards.
Some people will tell you that the text in the game looks horrible. These people have not selected “Use High Res Fonts” under the Performance Options menu in the Graphics tab.

Some people will say the game is slow. These people are more than likely using a computer below the minimum requirements, or are running CPU intensive processes in the background.

In short, while I was playing the game, I only ran across two graphics glitches which had to do with a faint black outline along a transparent background surface. It was noticeable but didn’t detract from the game in any way whatsoever, and I only saw this bug in two places over the entire game. I never ran into any framerate or sound problems, and the game worked perfectly after installing the appropriate patches.

Overall: 7/10

The story/plot is the most important part of an RPG, and I found FFVIII to be lacking. This is the main reason that brought the game down to 7. The game being easy also hinders the fun I had with it overall, but I’m happy to say the rest of the game was excellent.

I believe that most of the backlash came from the disdain of the characters, and not because the game was becoming “too realistic”, as Square originally thought. I’m glad Square went back-to-basics with FFIX, however FFVIII had potential which was soured.

Hopefully, Squaresoft has learned from their mistakes and will release games with more likeable characters and a better and more involved story in the future.


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 07/31/03, Updated 07/31/03


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