Review by Kyle Bowen
"Best. Game. Ever."
This may be hard for many folks to hear, let alone understand. However, after many years of reviewing, and playing this game over and over I have discover new things, and rediscovered things I had forgotten that lead me to believe this. I have spent much time playing Final Fantasy games, and discussing them but even so, nothing has yet to change my conclusion. Since seeing the ending the first time, Final Fantasy VIII is simply more successful than another game made.
The final fantasy series has knack of epic storytelling where you follow a band characters that ultimately save the world from an evil entity. With that, a cast of items and animals that reoccur through the series while the main characters always change have also been a trademark of series. Final Fantasy VIII steps outside of the box as much as it possibly can without being the member of the family that no one else likes.
One of the different ideas of the game is the way you get stronger weapons. Unlike previous and later games, a refining system is put into place. Instead traveling from town to town looking for new weapons at shops, character retain one weapon and with items found during battle, those weapons are refined into something better. This helps make searching for new enemies on a thin world map interesting. This also takes away some the clutter of having 35 different weapons and armor, and trying to sort through them and all and having to sell them.
The junction system was also a new idea put into place. Again instead of shopping for armor, you junction magic that you draw from enemies to a stat, and that magic raises that stat for you. Different magic’s raise the stats differently. It is not as easy as it sounds, you are also give elemental defense and status attack junctions that allow you to nullify or absorb enemy’s elemental magic attacks or inflict and enemy with a status effect. Be careful though, because you only junction a magic once, so what may nullify a fire attack may also be what raises your def stat the most. This adds depth to the game because you are able to decide what characters are strong in what stats.
One more different idea was to have your enemy’s level up with you. As opposed to just being able to level up and pound your opponents, you are forced to use the junction system along with your guardian forces to best your enemy’s. While there are claims that the game is too easy to beat, I argue that it is only as easy as you make it. One thing that made Final Fantasy X so enjoyable is that fact that you can make you character so strong, but it takes work to do. VIII does the same thing but only on a smaller scale. If you put work into your team and level up correctly at the right times, you can be as strong as you want to be. The argument that leveling up becomes insignificant is not valid with me, because there are bonuses that will allow you to become stronger with junctioning your magic if done correctly.
The play of the game depends greatly on physical attack, but that alone will not let you defeat the game, or the strongest enemy (who is not the main villain). You must also mater the abilities given to you from the GF’s and also learn to level up correctly and manipulate the junction system.
As far as the coveted side-quests of the Final Fantasy series, 8 lacks quantity. The chocobo game is thin and other quests are also very loose and not extremely rewarding. But, 8 also has arguably the best side-quest ever. The triple triad card game, where squall will play NPC’s in a simple card game. There are many cards to collect, and rare ones that special events or groups must be engaged to find. Some cards you can get from battle, and others are given to you, but ultimately you can collect all of them,(a hard feat to do) or you can refine them into items. Some of the items you refine them into can help you get materials for a new weapon or they can help you get your stats up.
The game play is above average, but probably not the best ever, what makes this game the better is its story. Often times Final Fantasy games focus so much on a universal problem such as a meteor , mist or sin destroying the planet, VIII focuses much more on individual problems and struggles. While Final Fantasy VIII does have villain, and that same universal problem, it takes a backseat to what seems to be a bigger villain, the characters themselves.
To begin these characters are designed beautifully. They are all very realistic looking, even Zell who has a tattoo on his face (Mike Tyson anyone?). Because they look so real, when there situation come to forefront, they are taken a joke. There designs are symbolically deep right down to the feather collar of Squall’s jacket. The colors used are not just a coincidence. The color of each person relates to their personality. These are really unseen to players of the game, but as artistic quality it is relevant and important. Every character is beautiful and obviously has great time and craft put into their conceptual 2-d design.
We are introduced to Sqaull Leonhart at the beginning of the game as he battles his rival Siefer. Squall is a Military student is a school for mercenaries. He is trained on how to accomplish missions and defeat enemies, but he struggles the most with own emotions. He often times seems to beat up on himself more than monsters do. The quarrel he has with not letting the past repeat itself, and trying to find himself is more interesting that the threat of the villains. Watching his character unfold or rather refold into something completely different is the most gradually intense process of character development I have seen in a video game.
Squall is not the only one of our characters who has problems. Rinoa has expectations to live up to, but has intentions of her own she wishes to fulfill. Every character has his or her own problems to contend with. In previous FF, many characters have the same things, their own problems to contend with. What makes VIII so unique is how those interpersonal problems are played out. Squall thinks to himself more than all the characters in 7-10 combined. He and the others also take so much more time to reflect upon those problems with each other. Each has their own opinion and ideas. In the other games of the series, many of the characters have the same attitudes. This makes for dull character development. Other times it is what is not said or the swift pauses that allow for a greater reaction to other characters that create more depth and understanding of each ones individual and unique attitudes.
The story moves at a nice pace that may be too slow for the veteran FF players. However, this allows newer players to get a grasp of what is going on. It also allows the aura of importance to be put on events of what happens. By letting the characters reflect and then react as opposed to just reacting, to certain important events of the game gives those events importance and meaning. The game does pick up at points and even moves at a break necks pace closer to the end. I feel that it is at its best when it takes its time and has that time of reflection.
The graphics are some of the greatest ever. Even 6 years after the game came out, the FMV scenes still hold up with the games that come out today. They are truly amazing and it is obvious how well they are crafted. Not only are they visually stunning, they are perfectly timed. The opening of the game has no rival in greatness. It is able to set up things very quickly but also leaves some questions. Why are Squall and Siefer Fighting, what is all of this symbolism, and who is that girl in the infirmary? In other games I have played many cut scenes seem a bit out of place, but 8 perfects the placement of when, where and why of the FMV’s. The ending scene is utterly remarkable. Unlike the previous Final Fantasy where ending are left loose, 8 ties up everyone’s story, that truly gives a sense finality. Even if you find the game play dull, the ending is worth playing the game. Its value is priceless and will not disappoint.
The sounds are also perfect. The sorceress’s theme is chilling and haunting. It really creates a presence of fear around the villain. The in game music is also wonderfully done. Every score sets the stage and matches the setting. While there are some themes are over played, classics never get old. The ending theme “Eyes on Me” is giving me chills now as I write this. It truly is emotionally charged after all you go through with the characters. After becoming so attached them, this is a perfect expression of their feelings.
The game is a not a bit short on replay ability. Collecting all the cards or GF’s may be something you are unable to do the first time. Beating the toughest opponent is another thing you might not do on your first try. This game is like a classic piece of literature, with every read it gets better. The story is so good that it makes the re-playable by itself to just see a certain FMV scene or an intense emotional scene.
While not everyone may buy into the individual problems as serious conflicts because it is not as glamorous as a universal conflict, it fits for these characters and this story. That equals a character driven game, and these characters definitely drive this game. Some of the new and different systems may scare away traditional Final Fantasy games, but to those who are open, they will find a unique new Fantasy game.
With an great system, characters that are designed and developed better than any other FF, enjoyable music, perfectly timed and crafted FMV’s, the most successful opening and ending ever, and the best video game story told, this game is truly the best game ever.
Reviewer's Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Originally Posted: 04/13/04
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