Review by nastynate3118
"Playing this game is like going to a really nice house where you aren't allowed to touch anything"
Final Fantasy VIII is a game that is maddening. On the one hand, you have to admire the limits this game pushes with its plot elements and technological prowess but on the other hand you have to jump through ten hoops just to do anything gameplay-wise. I first played it the year it came out and enjoyed it, but I knew then that something was off about it. In 2013 I am able to better describe what this game does extremely well and what it fails spectacularly at.
The gameplay is easily the most problematic aspect of Final Fantasy VIII. Far too many new ideas were implemented with the gameplay that were not thoroughly fleshed out or executed with precision. The central premise is essentially the same as the previous seven games; you control a party of three characters exploring dungeons on a world map and fight in turn-based battles. The Active Time Battle (ATB) system once again makes a return, allowing your characters to perform an action when a little gauge fills up. With the battle speed set on its highest difficulty, you can have some challenging fast-paced battles take place. The Limit Break system returns from Final Fantasy VII but they only activate when your characters are near-death. You have to cycle through your characters' turns just to get it to appear and this can be a nuisance because the enemy will be attacking you in the meantime. On one hand, this is a tedious process but it should be pointed out that almost every battle in this game can be won with Limit Breaks, hence the reason the developers made it so annoying to get to. I should also mention there is a spell you acquire late in the game that automatically allows your characters to use their Limit Breaks. Ultimately, I preferred the Limit system of Final Fantasy VII because it did not allow you to repeatedly spam your Limit attacks; this game does, if you are willing to cycle through your party's turns very quickly.
The central core of developing your characters comes with the Junction system. In order to make your characters stronger, you must acquire Guardian Forces (GFs) and junction them to your characters. The GFs can perform an attack in battle and teach your characters support abilities. After that, you can junction magic spells to each individual statistic to boost it and make them battle-ready. As you use certain spells that are junctioned to a specific stat, that stat will decrease (unless you restock that spell). MP is completely absent from this game and magic spells are kept with a tally, similar to what the first three Final Fantasy games had. The fact that spell use makes you weak really handcuffs your ability to use magic and rely solely on physical attacks. I actually beat this entire game without every casting a single offensive spell and relying completely on physical attacks, Limit Breaks and support/healing spells. The tiny role that magic has in terms of battle strategy is absolutely appalling. You can also summon your GFs in battle as many times as you want (as long as they don't die while you are charging their attack) but unfortunately you have to sit through these lengthy animations when they attack that cannot be skipped. This is just the beginning of the tedium that is Final Fantasy VIII.
Acquiring magic spells for your junctions can be done in one of two ways: 1) you draw them from a monster/draw point or 2) you refine them from items. Both of these methods require hours of repetitive tasks that you have to cycle through that will test your patience with this game. Drawing spells entails selecting the draw command to steal spells from monsters that add to your inventory of spells. The maximum you can draw at any one time is nine spells and you need one hundred (or close to it) to see any significant change in your stats. That means, at a minimum, you spend ten (!) turns drawing from a monster while they pound away at you (assuming you haven't incapacitated them with a negative status effect). There is nothing fun about repeatedly doing this, especially when you often won't be able to draw nine at a time in the early parts of the game.
The other method involves refining items into spells. Most of these items are acquired through a card game that seemingly every character in Final Fantasy VIII plays called Triple Triad. It is basically a trading card game where you challenge players and win cards from them, with rare cards being able to be refined into powerful items. The card game in its most basic form is pretty fun, but as the game progresses you encounter new rules that make the game very frustrating. These rules can be abolished, but without a guide of some sort you will have a hard time doing this. If you want to power up your characters with this card game, expect to play it for hours on end to acquire the necessary number of cards to give your characters enough spells. No matter what you do, expect tedium and boredom.
The leveling up system in this game is pretty strange. Enemies level up with you so there is no point in fighting random battles, unless you are looking for a certain item or spell to draw. One can easily break the game by keeping their characters' levels low and junctioning powerful magic to their stats. One also does not need a guide to figure this out; I distinctly remember as a kid doing this and breezing through the game crushing anything in my path. The fact that this can be so easily exploited is problematic and almost eliminates the aspect of random battles that has been a cornerstone to the series. I will acknowledge the developers for their intention of eliminating level grinding with this system, but you still have to grind in other ways, such as drawing spells or playing the card game.
One final note about the battle system that I want to mention is the fact that you are paid with a salary in this game, not with money won from monsters. They aimed to make it more realistic and it goes nicely with the fact that most of your characters come from a military academy. Your salary is based off your rank and to raise your rank, you either have to complete in-game events a certain way or take written tests that are in the menu. I am not a fan of taking these tests; this is a video game, not school. It is just busy work that was thrown in to make the game even less fun.
The equipment system is even more watered-down than it was in Final Fantasy VII. Your characters stick with one weapon the entire game that can be remodeled and made to be more powerful. Remodeling your weapons is a pointless venture; you usually must hunt down rare items that require either a rare card or to find a monster in some part of the world that may drop the item you are looking for. All of this work is very difficult without some kind of guide and is simply not worth the minor attack boost. Squall is the only character worth remodeling a weapon for simply because that is how he acquires new Limit Breaks. All other equipment is banished and replaced with the boost you get from junctioning magic or the ancillary abilities that GFs can learn.
I have never played an RPG where exploring a world map is such a miserable experience. The world you explore looks fantastic and the developers did a great job adding a ton of detail to every type of environment you come across, but the camera is unforgivably bad. You can never see where you are going and it is far too jerky. Using the Dual Shock joysticks on the world map is also terrible because they are far too sensitive and render Squall unable to run in a straight line.
Dungeon exploration is a bit better. They added an auto-dash feature where your character is always running by default and you have to hold a button to walk, as opposed to the opposite in the previous Final Fantasy games. They have a lot of secret draw points and treasures to be found. My only complaint comes with the various interactive objects you encounter on the field screens, such as buttons or levers. You usually have to be lined up just right to use them and after hammering the X button repeatedly, you may get lucky and hit it.
Finally, I have to compliment this game with the breadth of its side quests. There is a very large variety to them and they are available throughout the entire game. My only issue is that figuring them out without a guide is very cryptic and frustrating.
Overall, Final Fantasy VIII attempted to change too much too quickly. The previous game had perhaps the best gameplay in the entire series and Square probably felt that they had to do something drastic to have any chance of topping it. Unfortunately, it does not work out too well because the repetitiveness and tedium of basically every gameplay aspect drains the fun factor out of the game within a few hours of playing.
Final Fantasy VIII has the most lifeless menu screen I have ever seen. Gone is any color or organization and instead you are assaulted with menus stacked upon menus. You seriously have to go through three or four menus to look at your Limit Breaks or learn an ability from your GF, adding to the mounting tedium this game brings. The character named Quistis is notorious for the lengthy tutorials she throws at you in the beginning of the game. Yes, they can be skipped, but the game presents them in such a slow, boring way that you have to watch them several times to understand what they are talking about. There is nothing even remotely interactive like a good tutorial and you simply have to watch it then try and figure it out. I also don't like how the game throws almost all of them right at you in the beginning, making it even harder to absorb all of the information. Ultimately, there are too many menus that need to be negotiated just to get to a certain feature that you want to look at.
One personal nit-picky pet peeve of mine is when an RPG only allows you to name a certain amount of characters, but not all of them. You can only name the lead male and female characters (Squall and Rinoa) but not the other four characters. Why? Who knows? It makes no sense to me.
The translation in this game is superior to any previous effort in the series. I only noticed one single grammatical mistake (a misuse of they're/their) and never had trouble understanding what message the characters were trying to convey.
A couple other things I liked were the addition of a universal pause feature (instead of being able to only pause on battle screens like in the previous games) and the easiness of switching characters and their junctions. At times, the game will remove all of your characters of their junctions for seemingly no reason, but most of the time it is a very easy process to switch spells and GFs between characters.
Finally, while exploring the actual world map is awful, there is a helpful navigation screen that tells you the name of each city. When you acquire the airship toward the end of the game, you can select a town/landmark and it will automatically set an auto-pilot for that location.
People seem to either love or hate the story of Final Fantasy VIII and my score of 5.5 reflects that sentiment. There are things that are done very well and things that are so absurd and confusing that you can either laugh or just be indifferent.
The game starts off with one of the best introduction sequences I have ever seen in any game. You are immediately greeted with the outstanding presentation that is offered with epic music and impressive graphics. The opening scene really gets you pumped up to play this game and see what else the story has to offer. It features a duel between two rivals named Squall and Seifer in a training session. A spar has never looked so intense.
Squall is a main character that is both fascinating and irritating. He has a chip on his shoulder and is very callous toward the other party members and a majority of his dialogue is comprised of or whatever. As the game progresses, you learn why he is like that and he opens up a bit, but they still could have made him livelier instead of a robot that is impossible to like. The other primary character is Rinoa, a young rebel leader fighting against the evil Galbadian army. The game really focuses on these two characters and the love story that develops between them. I personally really liked the development and chemistry between the optimistic Rinoa and aloof Squall. There are a few scenes between them that are outstanding, especially toward the end of the game. I like how their romance is very subtle and never devolves into some lovey dovey thing. If anything, it was Square's best attempt at making an authentic love story come to life and is a high point of the plot. Some may criticize it as being too unrealistic, but I personally think that if you consider the medium and games from that time period, this was a fine attempt.
Unfortunately, the other characters do not get nearly the same development that Squall and Rinoa receive. Zell is a hyper martial arts fighter, Quistis is an insecure instructor, Selphie is an immature follower and Irvine is an amorous sharpshooter. I have just described almost the entire backstory and development of the other four characters in your party. There is an absurd plot twist that occurs involving these characters toward the end of the game that is horribly out-of-place and unnecessary, but aside from that you learn nothing else about them. They have personality, but no development.
The actual plot of the game takes a very long time to find its purpose or meaning. The first disc is comprised of isolated missions that Squall and his party take part in. They come from the military academy known as Balamb Garden and are trained mercenaries called SeeDs. There is a hostile nation on a neighboring continent known as Galbadia that terrorizes local cities and the SeeDs spend the first 15-20 hours of the game resisting them. The game never really explains what Galbadia's problem is or why they want to take over these other cities. After that, the story makes a complete turn toward fighting an evil sorceress from the future named Ultimecia. As a villain, there really isn't much to say about her; she is seen and spoken to vicariously throughout the game you only see her in person right before you fight her. She has no development or motivation at all and seemed to be thrown in just to have a person behind the central conflict of the game.
Ultimecia's primary goal is to achieve something called Time Compression, a concept where she will combine the past, present and future all into one era. Without getting into the specifics of it, I want to state that I found this to be an extremely confusing part of the plot and was not explained well at all. There is a lengthy FAQ on this website that explains it and I personally think that any time you need a guide to understand a central concept of the game's story, that concept is probably too abstract and unnecessary.
The plot wanders around for about the first half of the game and is peppered with action sequences that are actually quite fun to watch and play through. There are missile crises and complex missions that the SeeDs must partake in that are presented extremely well. The filler in between them is an absolute chore to play through and bounces all over the place. For example, one minute the characters are sad about something and the next minute they are cheery and focused on something completely different. There are also insane coincidences and events that happen that serve to gloss over plot holes and proceed on with the story. Oftentimes, the game will explain something that happened much earlier but by this point you have stopped caring.
The only other aspect of the story I want to discuss is the ending. It is very strong and is presented almost completely with visuals, leading to multiple interpretations. By this point, most players have given up trying to figure out the logic behind what is going on, but the presentation of the conclusion is outstanding and ambiguous.
The graphics of Final Fantasy VIII are amazing. The most noticeable difference from the previous game is the proportional characters that are detailed and animated very well. The battle graphics are filled with impressive, spectacular animations that really shine when summoning a GF. It is a nuisance that you can't skip these animations, but the sequences themselves are very impressive. The monster s are varied with very few palette swaps and have extensive detail and personality given to them. I like the plethora of animations they have, such as dying, reacting to a critical hit, etc. The amount of attention given to such a large group of monsters is phenomenal.
The backgrounds are once again pre-rendered, except when exploring the world map. Once again, there is a tremendous amount of detail and attention given to each and every screen and no shortcuts are taken. Each city/town has a distinct look and atmosphere to it that makes you feel like you are traveling around the world to new places. I also was happy with the sheer size of each town and dungeon.
The FMV sequences are outstanding. The characters no longer move like robots and have lifelike facial expressions. There is a grand quality to all of the action sequences that make you feel like you are watching a movie. The scenes toward the end of the game are the best of all and push the PlayStation to its technological limits. They are full of imagination and creativity and solidify Final Fantasy VIII as a triumph in terms of its visuals.
The only complaints I have are minor. Sometimes on the field screen characters will speak and have a spazzy animation accompanying their dialogue. You have to sit through their animation before you can advance the text, and this can become annoying. A very minor thing I did not like was the avatar of Selphie; for some reason, they made her look like a young boy with a faint moustache and really dropped the ball with her. Aside from that, the graphics are great.
It seems like Nobuo Uematsu can do no wrong when it comes to composing a soundtrack. Final Fantasy VIII is a masterpiece in video game music. He did a great job improving the overall sound to his music by getting rid of the MIDI-sounding instrumentation of Final Fantasy VII and adding two vocal pieces. The music is always engaging and fits whatever is happening perfectly. The soundtrack really shines with the calmer pieces. My 70-year old grandmother enjoys this game's softer music and has never touched a video game in her life. The action music is also fantastic but Uematsu really made this game relevant with his emotional music.
The sound effects are solid and I have no complaints about them.
Play Time/Replay Value 7/10
I completed Final Fantasy VIII in 49 hours, 45 minutes and 48 seconds. I completed every side quest, fought every optional boss, learned all character and GF abilities, acquired all ultimate weapons and found every card. This time is heavily inflated due to the cumulative hours spent playing the card game and drawing magic spells. Amazingly, I fought fewer battles in this game than I did in any other game in the series by avoiding random encounters almost the entire time. If I had fought them, the game time would have been over 60 hours long. This makes Final Fantasy VIII by far the longest game of the first eight and not by its content. It is long because of how tedious and repetitive everything is and how you have to do ten things just to accomplish a single task.
Replay value suffers due to the chore it is to play through Final Fantasy VIII. I would never want to do all of that grinding again. Fortunately, you can certainly play through with more/less junctioned spells than before and there are plenty of side quests to be completed and two super bosses to be fought.
+Triple Triad card game is fun (in its basic form)
+Auto-dash feature makes exploration easier
+Plenty of side quests and optional events
+Switching characters/junctions is very simple
+Love story is developed well
+Great introduction and ending
+Proportional character sprites
+Unique enemies that are animated well
+Outstanding FMV sequences
+Vast environments to explore
+Soundtrack is a gaming masterpiece
+Replay value with optional quests and bosses
-Unable to skip GF animations
-Magic is severely handcuffed
-Junction system allows for easy abuse
-Leveling up system lacks balance
-Remodeling weapons is pointless
-Acquiring magic spells is very tedious
-World map exploration is frustrating
-Lifeless menu that has too many screens
-Barrage of slow, boring tutorials
-Story moves at erratic pace
-Lack of character development outside of Squall and Rinoa
-Confusing and absurd plot concepts
-Lengthy play time is inflated
-Tedium hurts replay value
The only people who should play this game are hardcore Final Fantasy fans and people who love excellent game soundtracks. It is helpful to see the scenes that the music is attached to but one can easily listen to the soundtrack and appreciate it on its own. The novelty of the game's outstanding graphics has faded with the release of new consoles. Anyone who loves the series or weird plots involving time travel will enjoy this game; everyone else should listen to the soundtrack and move on.
Final Score: 6.95833333333/10 rounded to 7/10
Reviewer's Rating: 3.5 - Good
Originally Posted: 03/08/13
Game Release: Final Fantasy VIII (US, 09/07/99)
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