Review by mark24173
"Magnificent then, magnificent now"
Having to follow the controversy and success of Final Fantasy 7 was never going to be easy. It is a tribute to the brilliance of the team working at Square that they produced another FF game and kept the standards at the same great levels.
FF8 has a great deal going for it and not much going against it. Graphically it's excellent, and the way the sprites could interact with the FMV cutscenes (during, for instance, the TImber mission and the attack by Galbadia Garden) was utterly revolutionary at the time. The opening FMV, featuring the track Liberi Fatali, is one of the all time classic sequences in PS1 gaming.
An RPG needs several things to work. One of these things is a good set of characters with a story to tell, and while the characters in FF8 do take a while to warm up to, once the player spends enough time with them, they become interesting characters. Squall in particular is very well done. To turn him from a grumpy loner to a team player is something that could easily go wrong if handled by amateurs, but the story is well done and, importantly, the transition is done slowly over the course of the game. There's no corny "now, Squall sheds his macho exterior and shows his vulnerable side" moment; it happens gradually and makes that much more sense as a result. Likewise Rinoa; although at the start of the game she reminds one of none other than Kim Bauer in the earlier episodes of 24 (always getting into trouble, not very smart), she does eventually become a much more rounded and interesting character, although I was never entirely convinced by her even after the end of the game. Quistis is another great character, secretly harboring feelings for Squall while keeping a distance due to her (one-time) job as his instructor. Zell is likeable if shallow, and the same for Irvine. There are no really naff characters though. The "alternative" trio of Laguna, Ward and Kiros are an interesting idea (playing around in time, although Chrono Trigger did it before), and they do end up factoring into the game in a major way, elevating them above gimmick status.
One of the great strengths of FF8 is its set-pieces. The Timber mission is a case in point. Brilliantly paced and plotted out, it draws the player right into the game. A similar thing happens when the group visits Trabia for the first time; there are some incredibly powerful scenes here and it makes the characters so much more real. The sequence at the basketball court really opens the game up and lets you see how big it's going to get.
The sequence where Balamb Garden is attacked by Galbadia is another fantastic set piece, with only one problem - if you lose the fight to the Galbadian soldier when you're both suspended from the rope, it REALLY screws up the rhythm of the game. Up until that point, the whole set piece is flawless, but if you don't know how to handle the guard, it breaks the scene up in a very annoying way. That being said, your reward for beating him is a hugely impressive FMV sequence through which you have to duck and run.
The fighting system is excellent. The junction system is flexible and lets you condition your characters however you like - if you have the patience to draw and/or manufacture large amounts of high level magic, you can make your character's stats off-the-chart high, making the random battles (hey, no game is perfect) a breeze to get through. The GFs are a nice invention; not only do they fight for you, they give you abilities and teach you tricks. And instead of getting loads of new weapons, you have to acquire items to upgrade the weapon you have. Of course, the higher-grade the weapon, the rarer the item.
The Triple Triad card game is a good sidequest, and while you can get away with not playing it at all, it's worth the effort because later on in the game, they can produce incredibly powerful items and magic. Some of the rules are annoying as hell, but you can learn to get rid of them.
Musically, FF8 has some great tunes. The aforementioned Liberi Fatali is a great piece, and a lot of the tunes which turn up around the third disc (Esthar and time travel) are brilliantly atmospheric. Eyes on Me is actually a pretty bland and generic tune, but it fits the scene. Overall FF8 doesn't match up to FF6 or FF7, but is far from bad.
All in all, a very, very fine game with a whole lot of stuff to do. For me, the FF glory days were from 6 through to 9, with a possible honourable mention to 10. 8 has no problem fitting into this distinguished group.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 02/11/10
Game Release: Final Fantasy VIII (EU, 10/27/99)
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